Absence Policy

1. Absence Policy Statement

Vision Training (North East) Ltd aims to encourage all its employees to maximise their attendance at work while recognising that employees will, from time to time, be unable to come to work for short and sometimes long periods due to sickness. 

2.        Purpose

Vision Training (North East) Ltd is committed to maintaining and promoting the health and well-being of all its employees.  This policy provides a fair and consistent framework for supporting staff that are absent due to sickness.  Whilst Vision Training (North East) Ltd has a supportive approach, it is aiming to achieve a balance between the needs of the individual and the needs of the company

  • All employees will be treated fairly, consistently and sensitively during times of illness and are encouraged to make use of the support mechanisms available to them.
  • We have a structured framework to assist in managing sickness absence with the aim of supporting the employee back to work.  This includes conducting return to work interviews after every period of absence, monitoring an employee’s sickness in accordance with the set  sickness triggers
  • All employees understand their responsibilities and follow sickness reporting arrangements
  • The highest levels of quality and service is maintained to allow us to fulfil our obligations learners and our partners.
  • Vision Training (North East) Ltd will implement reasonable adjustments for employees, where applicable, to encourage attendance at work. We aim to support an employee’s return to work.  Where employees are absent from work for a considerable amount of time or no longer able to carry out the duties of their role, employees will be supported throughout this time and also made aware that the outcome of this process could be dismissal

3.        Scope

All employees and directors

4.        Definitions

  1. Short-term is defined where employees are absent for short periods of time;
  2. long-term is defined as an absence from work for one month or more. 

5.        Absence Policy Implementation – Procedures

5.1       Recording and Monitoring

The Operations Director is responsible for managing day to day absence management issues in a sensitive and compassionate manner, ensuring compliance with the procedure contained in this policy and associated documents.  They will

  • Record and monitor all activities associated with managing the employee’s absences on the Employee Absence/Annual leave Record
  • Ensure that employees are aware of other supporting arrangements such as special leave, disability leave etc.

Where the absence has resulted from a work related accident or disease record absences as such. 

5.2       Trigger Points

5.2.1      Short Term Trigger Points – For managing short term absence the company considers the following absences as a cause for concern, these are referred to as trigger points:

  •  4 or more episodes of sickness absence in a rolling 12 month period
  • 9 working days of sickness absence in a rolling 12 month period
  • Where the number of absences in a short period warrants immediate action, e.g. 3 episodes or 6 working days in 6 months
  • A pattern of absence which is causing concern, for example regular Friday or Monday absences or absences regularly occurring on a particular day/week, pre or post annual leave, school holidays, public holidays, pay day or any other event pattern.  

5.2.2 Long Term Trigger Points

For long term absence, the trigger point for action is an absence from work for one month (or more) and/or where there is no prospect of a return to work in the near future. We will:

  • Maintain contact with the employee during their sickness absence (this should be personally by telephone or face to face). 
  • If an employee is absent long term it is expected that contact will be fortnightly and on each occasion when contact is made the two parties will agree on the date and next form of contact. 
  • Records of contact made should be recorded on the Action Log.

5.2.3      Pro-rata

The trigger points for employees that work fewer than 5 days in a week will be pro rata.  For example if the employee works two and a half days (half the ‘standard’ week) the trigger point would be 4.5 working days in a 12 month period or 3 working days in 6 months (this could be within one episode).

Where employees do not work the same amount of days each week, triggers will be pro- rota, to an average working week. 

5.3       Return to Work Interviews

After every absence from work a return to work discussion should take place and be recorded on the Return to Work Form.  During the discussion we will

  • Identify support mechanisms that may be beneficial following a return to work.
  • Identify any issues which may be affecting the employee’s ability to attend work.
  • Inform the employee if they have hit absence triggers
  • Consider reasonable adjustments for employees (where applicable), including discussing with the employee advice given on a Fit Note. 

5.4       Employee responsibilities

Employees have a duty under their terms and conditions of employment to be at work and must ensure they adhere to their responsibilities, this includes:

  • On the first day of absence, all employees must report sickness absence as early as possible to the operations director, preferably before but no later than, one hour of normal starting time, unless other local arrangements have been agreed.
  • This contact should be made personally (not a spouse/family member/friend) by telephone not by text or e-mail. 
  • A contact number must also be provided in all instances.  It is recognised that there may be some instances where you are unable to contact the operations director personally and this may be due to ill health (e.g. admittance to hospital), this should be in exceptional circumstances and the person who contacts your line manager must leave a contact name and number. 
  • You must provide the following information: –
    • when you became ill
    • the broad nature of your illness (e.g. migraine, chest infection)
    • whether the illness is due to an accident or injury at work
    • whether you will be seeking medical attention
    • the likely date of return (if known) 
  • If the operations director is not available to speak to you then you should leave a message with a contact phone number and ask that it is passed on to them as soon as possible.  You should then expect to receive a phone call from the operations director to discuss the above points. 
  • If you do not follow these reporting procedures please be aware that failure to do this will be managed under the Disciplinary Policy. 
  • Where an absence lasts four calendar days or more or your absence is going to be longer than you originally envisaged, you will need to make contact with the operations director to update them and thereafter maintain contact on at least a fortnightly basis.
  • On the eighth calendar day of absence you will need to obtain a Fit Note from your GP and submit this to the operations director.  You will need to continue to send in Fit Notes for the duration of the absence and keep the operations director advised of your health and progress towards returning to work. 
  • When each Fit Note expires, if you do not return to work, you need to ensure that a new Fit Note is issued and sent to the operations director immediately.
  • You will need to ensure that medical advice and treatment is received as quickly as possible and that you follow all recommended medical advice or treatment in order to facilitate a prompt return to work.
  • We encourage all employees to attend any OH appointments made for them, as if employees do not agree or attend these appointments any decisions regarding their absence from work will be made without the benefit of this information.
  • You should ensure you are contactable and available to attend absence management meetings throughout your absence and respond in a timely manner to any communications from the company.
  • If you change any contact details during your period of absence you will need to advise your line manager of your new contact details (i.e. phone number and address).
  • It is important that you raise with the operations director any concerns with your job which you feel are making you ill or contributing to your illness/absence.
  • If you wish to take time off work and you are not sick, the use of annual or special leave or other approved leave should be used.  All leave needs to be approved by the operations director.  Other types of leave should not be used to avoid taking sick leave.
  • You may request to take any accrued annual leave whilst on long term sickness, however, you are not expected to go on holiday when absent due to sickness unless this is supported by your GP.  If you wish to take annual leave you will be expected to seek authorisation from the operations director and have the appropriate period of annual leave deducted from your entitlement
  • It is expected that when you are absent from work due to sickness that you should not undertake activities that would hinder your recovery.  If it is found that you are undertaking activities that would prevent your recovery this will be managed under the Disciplinary Policy.
  • It is your responsibility to manage your sickness and to take any appropriate action as determined by any health professional to minimise any reoccurrence of the sickness.

5.5 Absence Management Procedure Flowchart  – is available on the paper copy of the policy

5.6       Return to Work Interviews

5.6.1  Return to work interviews must be conducted after every period of absence and where possible managers should carry this out on the day an individual returns (or as soon as practicable); this does not necessarily have to take place on a face to face basis and can be conducted by telephone.

5.6.2  Return to work interviews are an important part of absence management and can help identify short and long term absence problems at an early stage; they also provide a manager with an opportunity to start a dialogue with staff about underlying issues which may be causing the absence and allow them to make any changes to support the employee. 

5.6.3  The return to work interview needs to be separate to any Stage 1, Stage 2 Meetings and Stage 3 Hearing, you cannot combine these meetings.  Please use the Return to Work Interview Form  to record the discussion.

5.7       Stage 1, Stage 2 Meetings and Stage 3 Hearings 

The purpose of the absence management meetings/hearing is to provide assistance and support to the employee to improve his/her attendance to a satisfactory level. 

Absence management meetings are not disciplinary meetings. The aims of the absence management meeting are to:

  • Establish the reasons for the absence; is it medical or non medical?
  • Discuss possible ways of reducing absence in the future.
  • Explore and consider any reasonable adjustments.
  • Explain to the employee about the absence management procedure and inform them of the possible actions if their level of absence is not improved. Managers should treat individuals in a sensitive manner. Discussions between an employee and the manager will be kept confidential so far as reasonably possible.  The meetings will be arranged at a suitable, private room.

If, because of the nature of their illness the employee is unable to attend the absence management meeting/hearing, they may ask for a representative to attend on their behalf.

If the employee is unable to attend the meeting/hearing for some other reason or their representative is unable to attend the meeting may be postponed and will be rearranged within 7 calendar days or as soon as is practicable. 

The employee should be notified of the date in writing and informed that if they are not able to attend on the revised date the meeting/hearing will proceed on this occasion in their absence. If employees cannot attend a meeting/hearing personally they can put their case either through their representative (work colleague or Trade Union Representative) or if that person is not available, an alternative representative (work colleague or Trade Union Representative), or submit their case in writing in advance by no later than 5 calendar days in advance of reconvened meeting/hearing. 

It is the employee’s responsibility to respond in a timely manner to any communications from the Company and attend absence management meetings as required.  Employees need to be aware that if they continually fail to respond to communication from their line manager, this may result in them being considered as having resigned from their post by reason of conduct.  This will not be considered to be a dismissal by the Company as the employee will be regarded as having resigned from their post.

5.8       Managers’ Discretion on Trigger Points

When reviewing absences against the trigger points it may be necessary in exceptional circumstances for managers to use their discretion on what the trigger points are.  This particularly applies when an employee has an underlying medical condition that is covered under the Equality Act 2010.

If a manager wishes to apply your discretion and change an employee’s trigger point for absences then this should only be applied in exceptional circumstances.  The manager must be able to justify, discuss, record and seek approval from the registered manager.

In some instances it may be appropriate to escalate to a Stage 3 Absence Management Hearing, without the Stage 1 and Stage 2 meetings taking place.  This would occur if advice received that the employee is either eligible for permanent ill health retirement or that they are permanently unfit to do their role due to an underlying medical condition. 

5.9       Review Periods

A default review period is normally 2 months, it is recognised that there might be exceptional circumstances where a longer review period is needed, such as 3 or 4 months, these might be instances where the employee is waiting on specific medical treatment relating to their condition. 

5.10     Managing Combined Absences of Short Term and Long Term

When managing an employee’s absences the manager needs to ensure that reasonable time has been given to consider the employee’s absence, especially if the length of the absence changes.  This might be especially relevant when an employee is at Stage 3 of the procedure and the employee’s absence change from short term to long term, the registered manager will give consideration to the change in length of absence and the reason for the absence, a further time period to allow for medical advice might be appropriate in some cases.

All time related to a long term absence, still contributes towards the amount of time away from the workplace when looking at a short term trigger.  Therefore if an employee returns to work following a period of long-term absence (i.e. over 1 month) they will have also exceeded the trigger points for short term absences. In addition if an employee has reached a short term absence trigger and a meeting has been arranged, then the employee goes off long term, there is no need to wait until the 1 month trigger for the meeting to go ahead, as the employee has already reached the short term trigger.  This meeting can then discuss the previous short term absences as well as refer to the current absence.

5.11 Abuse of Sickness Scheme

In cases where abuse of the sickness policy is suspected, which may include:

  • failure to report sickness absence at the appropriate time
  • failure to submit a doctor’s Fit Note at the appropriate time
  • submission of forged or false Fit Notes
  • deliberate conduct prejudicial to the employee’s own recovery or due to the employee’s misconduct or neglect/

Sick pay may be suspended and consideration may be given to disciplinary action. 

5.12     Annual Leave Entitlement in Relation to Sickness Absence

Employees who are absent due to long term sickness accrue their annual leave entitlement and may request to take annual leave during a period of long term absence.  However, employees are not expected to go on holiday when absent due to sickness unless this is supported by their GP. 

Employees who go on holiday during sick leave and have not requested annual leave with their line manager will automatically have the period of time taken off their annual leave entitlement. Any employee wishing to take leave during long term absence should request this in writing via their line manager.  The period of annual leave will be deducted from an employee’s leave entitlement and the employee’s sickness will still be recorded on the payroll system as being absent. 

If an employee’s sick pay entitlement has decreased to half or nil pay and the employees wishes to use annual leave to continue to receive payment, this needs to be agreed with the registered manager. 

In circumstances where an employee is advising that they are not contactable and available to attend meetings whilst they are absent, then an agreement should be made that this is annual leave and should be deducted from the employee’s leave Statutory holiday entitlement is built up (accrued) while an employee is off work sick (no matter how long they’re off).

Any statutory holiday entitlement that isn’t used because of illness can be carried over into the next leave year entitlement.  

Where an employee returns to work having accrued holiday they are encouraged to take their remaining statutory annual leave entitlement to assist with their rehabilitation back to work. 

Any employee who falls sick prior to commencing pre-booked annual leave will be able to reclaim their annual leave, as long as they comply with sickness reporting procedures, are still available for contact or meetings when absent and supply a Fit Note to cover the period they wish to reclaim.  

If the employee falls sick whilst on annual leave and returns wishing to reclaim a proportion of that leave will be required to comply with sickness reporting procedures (where practical) and provide a Fit Note to cover the period they wish to reclaim.  If the employee becomes fit for work whilst still on leave, they should also confirm the date on which they would have been fit to work on their return from leave.

5.13     Sickness during the Working Day

Employees who leave work during the working day due to illness (need to report this to their manager) will be classed as absent on that day for sick pay and recording purposes and will be required to self certify and attend a return to work interview.

Line managers should determine what proportion of the employee’s normal working hours have been worked and decide whether a full or half days sickness absence should be recorded.

Such absences of ½ a day or more should be recorded on the sickness system and will count towards trigger points.

5.14     Accident or Injury at Work

If an employee considers their illness arises from an accident at work they must notify their line manager immediately so that the Accident Reporting Form can be completed.  An employee who is absent from work due to an accident or injury at work should be treated in the same way as if their absence was due to sickness and therefore the Absence Management Procedure should be followed.

5.15     Fit Notes

The Fit Note is a form that the employee will receive from their doctor; the GP will say whether the employee is either:

(a) not fit for work or

b) maybe fit for work. 

If the GP chooses option (b) the GP will make recommendations for reasonable adjustments to help the return to work, it is for the line manager to determine whether they can be implemented.  Where the changes cannot reasonably be made, and the employee cannot return to work, the Fit Note can be used to cover their sickness absence. Where the GP has stated they do not need to assess the employee again, this means that the employee should be able to return to work at the end of the period stated. 

If an employee wants to return to work prior to the Fit Note expiring, the manager will need to ask the employee to return to their GP to seek a new Fit Note which reflects the timescales in which the employee feels they wish to return to work on.  GPs do not issue Fit to Return Notes.

If the operations director has concerns regarding an employee’s return to work due to their health or with the recommendations that are on the Fit Note, it is recommended that the operations director carries out a risk assessment to assess their concerns.   

Further guidance on Fit Notes can be found from the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP): http://www.dwp.gov.uk/docs/fitnote-employer-guide.pdf.

5.16     Medical/Hospital Appointments

Wherever possible, employees should make medical/dental appointments outside of their normal working hours.  However, where this is not practical, they must be made to cause minimal disruption to the working day., i.e. lunchtime, early, late appointments, employees will need to make up the time, using flexible working or have the time deducted from their pay.

Hospital appointments are considered authorised absence and time off will be paid; the operations director will use their discretion to how much time is allowed.  Employees must provide the operations director with proof of their appointment (e.g. an appointment card or copy of the appointment letter) when requesting time off to attend hospital appointments.

Time off to accompany dependents is not sickness absence and should normally be taken as annual leave or using flexible working unless there are exceptional circumstances where paid time off is appropriate.

Time off for cosmetic surgery should be taken from employees own leave entitlement, unless it is linked to a disability.

Leave to undertake IVF treatment would be expected to be taken as Special Leave for Family or Personal Reasons.

Planned operations; when an employee is absent due to a planned operation they may still reach the long term trigger (i.e. 1 month).  Managers should discuss contact arrangements with the employee before the start of their absence and make employees aware that they should still expect the operations director to contact them at the appropriate time to arrange the Stage 1 meeting.   The operations director will use discretion as to the timing of this meeting to ensure that the employee is well enough to attend.  This meeting will be to discuss with the employee how they might best be supported (e.g. any reasonable adjustments) to enable them to return to work when they are well enough.  An appropriate review period should also be set following this meeting.

5.17     Time off for being a Donor (Egg/Bone Marrow/Organ Donor)

Consistency needs to be applied to advice in relation to staff that has to take time off to undertake treatment which may be supporting others.  Any pre-testing relating to being a donor should be treated as a hospital appointment.  Special leave for the procedure could be applied if it is an emergency and requires only one day but if the treatment means that the employee is unwell and not able to work due to a result of the treatment it should be recorded as sickness absence.

5.18     Pregnancy Related Sickness

Please be aware that pregnancy related sickness should be recorded but should not be counted towards the trigger points.

5.19     Redeployment

There may be occasions when the Company needs to redeploy staff.  Redeployment is a positive act which can enable the Company to maintain the skills and experience of valued employees, as well as meeting its legal obligations.

5.20     Medical Suspension

In certain circumstances it may be appropriate to medically suspend an employee, for example:

  • Where the employee and their GP consider they are fit to return to work, without any adjustments/modifications and the operations director in conjunction with the other directors believe they are not and therefore would like further clarification before allowing the employee to return back to work. If the GP recommends any adjustments which, having undertaken the necessary risk assessment, the manager cannot accommodate, employees will remain off sick for the period specified on the Fit Note. 
  • Medical suspension could also apply where the operations director believes the employee is not fit to attend work but the employee refuses to go on sick leave and therefore the manager may medically suspend the employee until medical advice is received.
  • Wherever possible, prior to initiating medical suspension, alternatives such as temporarily adjusting the employee’s substantive duties or temporary redeployment to another role/location or working from home should be carefully considered using any advice from the GP contained on the Fit Note where appropriate.  In such circumstances it would be appropriate to undertake a risk assessment, Workplace Assessment and/or DSE Assessment. Any decisions to medically suspend need to be based on sound health and safety justification and the operations director should be able to demonstrate this through a risk assessment.  Having considered the views of the employee the manager should be able to clearly explain the reasons for their decision. If it is considered that there are sufficient grounds to suspend, written approval must be given by the operations director
  • The operations director should convene a suspension interview as soon as possible after the decision has been made, which should be followed up in writing.  The employee has a right of representation at the suspension interview. However, the unavailability of a representative must not delay convening the suspension interview or the suspension itself.  If the need to medically suspend the individual is urgent and it is not possible to convene a face to face meeting the operations director may telephone the employee to inform them of the medical suspension and follow up the discussion in writing.
  • Medical suspension will be on contractual pay and does not impact on sick pay. Review of medical suspension should take place once the required medical information is provided. If the required information is received is that the employee is able to return to work, the medical suspension will be lifted.

5.21     Terminal Illness

The operations director will deal with such situations compassionately taking into account the wishes of the employee and their financial situation as well as the needs of the organisation.  Each case will be considered on its own circumstances.

In extreme cases, the employee will be kept on the payroll, even though they have exhausted their entitlement to sick pay.  This removes the need to add further distress by formally dismissing someone who is dying.

5.22     Underlying Medical Condition – Employee still at Work

Some employees will have an underlying medical condition which affects how they carry out their role.  This may not mean that they are absent from work but could mean that they fail to carry out the responsibilities or duties of their role in a satisfactory manner due to the underlying medical condition.

The operations director will organise a Stage 1 meeting, as per the Absence Management Procedure.   If an employee has previously been managed under the Absence Management Procedure (and it is still active, i.e. 12 month period) due to absences then the operations director can return to the same point in the procedure once confirmation has been received as detailed above.  The operations director will ensure that reasonable time has been given to consider the employee’s underlying medical condition and how it affects how they carry out their role and give consideration to the reason for the absence, whether further time period might be appropriate to provide any reasonable adjustments prior to escalating to the next stage of the procedure. 

Reasonable adjustments can assist the employee to carry out their role. These adjustments need to be reviewed on a regular basis to assess the effectiveness.  If the reasonable adjustments are not sustainable or not helping the employee fulfil their responsibilities/duties of their role, then alternative reasonable adjustments might need to be considered or redeployment may need to be explored.

5.23     Absences – relating to Stress

If an employee is absent due to a stress-related illness, anxiety or depression, as determined on the medical certificate, it is essential that support is provided to the employee, if appropriate.  If any work-related issue is felt to be contributing to ill health, it is essential that this is discussed with the directors so that appropriate and reasonable action can be taken swiftly.

We have a duty of care to employees to take reasonable steps to avoid putting them in situation that might impair their health.   

5.24     DISABLED EMPLOYEES

The Equality Act 2010 prohibits discrimination because of disability and places a duty on employers to make reasonable adjustments to working practices and premises in order to accommodate the needs of individual employees and job applicants who have a disability.  This means that an employee with a disability must not be treated less favourably than any other employee without justification.

The Equality Act 2010 defines the protected characteristic of disability as applying to a person who has a physical or mental impairment that has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on their ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities. If there are problems with an employee’s attendance and an underlying medical condition or disability is identified, the operations director will have an open discussion with the employee to identify reasonable adjustments that could be made to either the physical place of work, or the work itself. Please be aware that in some cases a short term absence pattern could be related to a disability or a long term condition or become a disability in the long term. 

Reasonable Adjustments

When supporting a disabled person in the workplace, the Equality Act requires the organisation to consider and make ‘reasonable adjustments’ to ensure the disabled employee is not put at a substantial disadvantage, and is able to perform in their role and ensure their safety in the workplace.

A number of factors influence whether it is reasonable for an employer to make changes, including:

  • The effectiveness of the adjustment – will it remove or reduce the difficulties the employee is experiencing?
  • Any health and safety implications – is there an impact in regards to health and safety of the individual or colleagues?
  • What (if any) impact will this have on other employees / team members / colleagues?
  • The practicalities of the adjustment – what effects will it have on the organisation?
  • The cost – funding options may be available such as through Access to Work.
  • Other help available – can you source other methods of support for the individual?

Absences relating to an Employee’s Disability The Equality Act 2010 does not require absence relating to the employee’s disability to be automatically discounted for trigger points; nor does it require an employer to retain someone indefinitely if they are frequently absent due to a disability.  However, when counting disability- related absences towards trigger points for unacceptable attendance procedures, the company must be able to demonstrate that:

  • All reasonable adjustments have been considered to the number of day’s absence which trigger a review under the procedure.
  • All reasonable adjustments have been made to reorganise a job around functions that the employee can perform, and that
  • All reasonable adjustments have been made to working practices, the workplace and its location that place the disabled person at a significant disadvantage.

Disability Leave

It is recognised that some disabled employees may need time off for a reason relating to their disability to attend appointments or undergo treatment or rehabilitation.  The Disability Leave is intended to provide disabled employees with reasonable time off work.

Disability Related Sickness Absence

Disability related sickness absence should be recorded by line managers using the same method they use to record other types of sickness.  Disability related sickness absence arises where the employee’s sickness absence is related to their disability. 

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