Sick Leave and Allowances

12 Jun 2014 Alex Hastings    Last updated: 20 Dec 2019

This article outlines NICVA’s policy and procedures for staff sickness / absence.

ABSENCE MANAGEMENT POLICY AND PROCEDURE

1.0       Policy Statement

NICVA recognises that a certain level of absence may occur due to sickness and ill health.  Whilst being a caring and compassionate employer, NICVA aims to minimise the level of absenteeism in order to operate efficiently through controlling and monitoring absence patterns by means of consistent and fair treatment to all employees.  The steps that will be taken to enable this goal to be achieved are as follows:

  • Absence reporting and recording process – including return to work interviews.
  • Training for line managers - to ensure consistent application of the policy and the clarification of responsibilities.
  • Briefing all employees on all aspects of the policy and procedures.
  • Complying with all health and safety requirements in order to provide a safe and healthy workplace.
  • Evaluating absenteeism levels by continuous monitoring and analysis of data and taking appropriate action.
  • Reviewing the policy and procedures at regular intervals to ensure their objectives are being achieved.

In all cases of sickness absence NICVA employees will be required to respect confidentiality (refer to Section 9 of the NICVA Staff Handbook - Confidentiality).  An employee's personal circumstances (illness, disability, etc) should not be discussed with any other employee who does not have an explicit responsibility for dealing with the issue.

When dealing with any sickness absence, NICVA must be mindful of obligations they have under the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 and in order to identify whether or not an employee is covered by the Act advice will be sought from appropriate medical professionals. Managers should also be mindful of obligations that they and NICVA have under the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 and the Equality Laws in Northern Ireland.

 

2.0       Responsibilities

2.1       Manager Responsibilities

Line managers have an important role to play in the management of absence.

The key responsibilities for managers are to:

  • Ensure that they are familiar with the Sickness Absence Policy and Procedures and their role in the management of the policy.
  • Ensure that all employees understand the notification and reporting procedures.
  • Maintain reasonable contact with the employee especially during periods of long-term sickness.  The form of this contact will be sensitive and non-intrusive in approach and the frequency of the contact will depend on mutual agreement and the nature of the illness.
  • Ensure that disability, disabling or terminal illness issues are adequately considered and sensitively addressed when investigating sickness absence and implementing this procedure.
  • Ensure self-certifications and records of return to work discussions are completed in a timely fashion and returned to the HR Manager for recording and monitoring.
  • Try to determine whether an employee's health is in any way affected by their work and where appropriate refer to and act on NICVA's Health and Safety Policy and Procedures in consultation with the employee and the HR Manager.

2.2       Employee Responsibilities

Employees are expected to:

  • Ensure their attendance at work, except when genuinely ill or unable to perform their work duties.
  • Be contactable and communicate appropriately and regularly with their manager when absent from work.
  • Advise the Manager if they become aware that they have a disability or illness which is likely to affect their ability to attend work or perform some of their job tasks.
  • Attend an appointment with a nominated medical practitioner where appropriate.
  • Attend review meetings with management when discussing periods of absence or planning return to work, reasonable adjustments or alternative employment.

 

3.0       Procedures

3.1       Reporting and Recording Process

On the first day of absence, all employees are required to report their absence directly to their line manager by speaking to them (as far as reasonably practicable) prior to or within one hour of their usual start time. If the line manager is not available, or is not the most appropriate contact, the employee should speak to the next line manager in their chain of command, or to the HR Manager, or, in the case of their absence, the Deputy Chief Executive. All employees are required to provide a clear indication of the nature of the absence and (where possible) a likely return to work date.

Employees should continue to update their line manager at agreed intervals thereafter.

 3.2      Certification of Absence

For a period of illness of up to one week, i.e. up to and including seven calendar days including weekends and bank holidays, employees should complete a self-certification form and return it to their line manager immediately upon their return to work.

For periods of illness exceeding one week, ie over seven days including weekends and bank holidays, a Statement of Fitness for Work is required and must be forwarded to the HR Manager as soon possible.

In cases where an employee's sickness absence extends beyond the period set out in their Statement of Fitness for Work they will be required to get another Statement of Fitness for Work or Hospital Certificate to cover the full period of absence.

Employees wishing to return to work after an extended certified period of absence must obtain a Doctor's note confirming they are fit to return. In some cases the Statement of Fitness may suggest that an employee is fit to return to work with support, this support could be a phased return, flexible working, amended duties or workplace adaptations. It is noted that such recommendations, whilst not legally binding, should aid discussion between the employee and their line manager to establish the feasibility of the suggestions in an open and honest way.

NICVA reserves the right to withhold the payment of sick pay where employees fail to provide Statement of Fitness for Work when required to do so or provide false documentation.  Managers should seek Human Resources advice under these circumstances.

3.3       Unauthorised/Unnotified Absence

When an employee is absent without following the notification and reporting procedure and without good reason, line managers will be responsible for informally investigating the absence and if appropriate referring to the disciplinary procedure.  Advice must be sought from the HR Manager before any formal disciplinary procedure is initiated.

3.4       Return to Work Meetings

As part of absence management and on an employee's return to work following a period of sickness absence, the line manager will meet with their employee to discuss the reason for the absence and the progress of work in their absence.  There may be exceptional circumstances when the manager will be requested to respect the confidential nature of sickness absence which will mean the employee is unwilling/unable to discuss the reasons for the absence.  In these situations the manager is required to establish as a minimum whether the absence is in any way attributed to work or a result of work related injury.  This meeting is essential for a number of reasons:

  • To welcome the employee back to work
  • To understand the reason for their absence from work
  • To ensure the employee is fit to return to work, has no underlying health conditions and enable additional welfare support to be provided if necessary.
  • To ensure that the employee is fully informed of and kept up to date on issues within their unit of work.

The format of the meeting will be at the line managers discretion, although the ‘Return to Work Form’ (Annex A) should be used as a prompt and used to record that the meeting took place. Should any action be required following the return to work discussion, line managers should liaise with the HR Manager to ensure that this is carried out and that it is recorded on the form. The completed form along with any Self Certificate or Fitness to Work Note should then be returned to the HR Manager. All details discussed during this process will be held in strict confidence.

Managers should be aware of the possibility that a disability or a disabling or terminal illness might be a cause for absence.  If this is known or becomes apparent during a return to work meeting, the matter must be treated sensitively and will require preliminary discussion with the employee about action or measures NICVA might be able to take to assist in the return to work.

 

4.0       Absence due to Stress

NICVA recognises that stress can be identified as a reason for absence and for such cases, early intervention and support is key. Line managers are required to meet with an employee who has identified stress as the reason for their absence at the earliest opportunity, to understand the issues in more detail and to discuss how stress factors could be reduced. A record of this meeting should be made, detailing the issues raised and agreed actions.

If the stressors identified by the employee could potentially form part of a grievance complaint, the employee should be reminded of the NICVA Grievance procedure in the event that they want the matter dealt with formally.

Where stress is the identified reason for either short-term or long-term absence, a referral to an Occupational Health Practitioner will be made as soon as possible to ensure the employee receives appropriate support.

 

5.0       Support Mechanisms

5.1       Referral to Occupational Health Medical Practitioner

In order to provide managers with appropriate information about an employee's ability to perform all or part of their job tasks, and particularly in cases of long-term or excessive or persistent absence, NICVA may refer employees to an Occupational Health Practitioner.  The purpose of the referral is to obtain information about an employee's condition which is necessary as part of the process of consulting with the employee and managing the absence. Seeking independent medical opinion also provides NICVA with guidance regarding appropriate support mechanisms which could be put in place to support and facilitate a return to work.

Typical situations where NICVA may refer to an Occupational Health Practitioner are when a prognosis is needed in relation to an individual's ability to return to work, an employee is nearing the end of their paid sickness entitlement, where stress may be a factor and where an additional medical opinion may be useful to the employee.

All referrals will be made by the HR Manager, in consultation with the line manager, and any information or correspondence relating to the case will be shared with the employee and will include NICVA obtaining consent from the employee for access to the relevant medical reports.  However, by their nature, no two sickness absence cases are alike and therefore it is impossible to devise clear rules as to when referrals will take place.

The purpose of the Occupational Health referral is to explore the nature and cause of an employee’s absence and recommend appropriate support, e.g a phased return to work, reasonable adjustments or medical redeployment. In long term sickness cases, the referral can also indicate the likely date of return. Should a return to work be unlikely, Occupational Health can inform whether retirement or dismissal on the grounds of ill health should be considered. Where an Occupational Health referral requires a medical report from an employee’s GP/Specialist, consent should be obtained from the employee.

5.2       Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) for NICVA employees

NICVA provides a free, confidential and independent support service that can provide advice and counselling to NICVA employees who may be experiencing personal difficulties. 

NICVA wishes to support the health and wellbeing of employees and recognises that personal difficulties may be dealt with successfully with appropriate support. EAP is available to all NICVA employees and contact can be made with the EAP office by telephone on 028 8676 8674, or by email:[email protected]

 

6.0       Monitoring Sickness

NICVA will monitor sickness absence on an ongoing basis.  The HR Manager will advise line managers when an individual employee's sickness/absence hits the following trigger points: 3 occasions of absence in the past 6 months, or 10 days absent in the past rolling 12-month period.  Should either of the aforementioned trigger points have been met the line manager will conduct an absence review with the employee. It is further noted that in line with equality legislation, trigger points shall not be considered as met should absence relate to accidents at work, pregnancy or to rehabilitation, assessment or treatment under the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 however these periods of absence shall continue to be monitored for patterns and trends and these can be discussed during Return to Work Meetings (see section 10 of this policy for further details).

6.1       Managing Short-term absence

Where an employee has been identified as having met a trigger point with regard to their absence, the line manager will invite the employee to an absence review meeting to specifically discuss their absence.

The purpose of this meeting is to highlight and discuss the pattern of absence and to set out clear expectations in terms of improved attendance. During this meeting line managers should ask questions to explore whether there are any underlying medical issues or personal issues that may need to be taken into consideration. Consideration may also be given as to whether adjustments could be made to either the job or the environment which would enable the employee to improve their attendance. If deemed appropriate, a referral to Occupational Health may also be considered.

Following an initial absence review meeting, absence shall continue to be monitored and should an employee’s levels of absence not improve to the extent agreed during the initial meeting, line managers should invite the employee to a further meeting. At this meeting managers should establish whether there are any new reasons for their employees’ absence. Any adjustments implemented following a previous Occupational Health referral should be discussed and if a referral to Occupational Health has not yet been made then this should be initiated at this stage. A further period of monitoring should also be set, and the employee should be advised that if attendance does not improve a further meeting shall be held.

NICVA shall endeavour to be sensitive regarding the reasons for repeated absences however repeated, unexplained or unjustified absences maybe treated as a conduct issue and lead to disciplinary action and ultimately dismissal.  Line managers shall be supported through the absence management process by the HR Manager and where more formal action is required this will be conducted in line with NICVA’s disciplinary process as outlined in the Disciplinary Policy.

Disciplinary action is normally progressive, i.e. each successive sanction is imposed if a previous formal disciplinary meeting has been held and, as a result of that meeting, action at the previous level has been taken and the warning remains “live”. However, NICVA reserves the right to invoke a higher sanction than the next level in the disciplinary process where patterns are emerging, or repeated absences are arising falling just outside the “live” periods of the warnings. Further information regarding the disciplinary procedure and appeals procedure are outlined in NICVA’s Disciplinary Policy (Section 6 of the NICVA Staff Handbook).

 

7.0       Long-Term Absence

Long term absence is usually defined as a period of continuous absence lasting 28 calendar days or more. NICVA recognises that some employees may be subject to periods of long-term illness where the employee is unlikely to be in a position to change the situation.  In such instances NICVA will endeavour to be sensitive to the long-term needs of the employee.  However, there are occasions where the needs of NICVA are such that appropriate action will be taken. In order to manage long term absence, line managers, with the support of the HR Manager should adhere to the following principles:

  • Regularly communicate and consult with the employee
  • Seek a detailed medical opinion
  • Consider how to help the employee return to work

7.1       Regular Contact

When an employee is away from work due to reasons of ill health, it is the responsibility of the line manager to provide cover for their work and to ensure that the employee has a break from work and related issues, as far as is practicable, to enable them to rest and recuperate.  NICVA however has the right to contact the employee during their sick leave to enquire about their ill health or to deal with any urgent work-related queries.

For employee’s on long-term sickness (ie greater than one month), regular contact will be established by the line manager to check on their health.  The contact will typically be every two weeks and is likely to be by telephone, although discretion will be exercised after consultation with the employee and/or the Staff Union Representative particularly where the employee’s absence is due to stress or some other such illness.

Regular communication with an employee who is off is important and should continue for the duration of their absence. After a period of absence of 28 working days, line managers should seek to meet with their employee. This meeting could take place at an employee’s home or at an alternative venue by mutual agreement.

The purpose of this meeting is to update the employee on work related matters, to discuss the employee’s condition and to consider appropriate support mechanisms which could include gaining written consent from the employee to request medical evidence from their GP or Occupational Health. A written record of this meeting, including what was discussed and agreed actions should be made, this shall be retained in the employee’s personnel file.

Line managers are responsible for ensuring regular contact continues to be maintained with the employee who is absent and in cases where the absence

continues the HR Manager will support line managers in arranging further meetings and will advise of further appropriate action.  

7.2       Return to Work

NICVA will support employees in facilitating a phased return to work following a prolonged period of ill health, where Occupational Health advise that a ‘phased’ return to work is likely to aid rehabilitation and return to normal duties.

A phased return to work is a temporary arrangement and is a graduated return to the full duties and responsibilities of an individual’s role. The length of a phased return is case by case dependant but NICVA envisage that most employees should return to full duties within a three-month period.

Employees returning to work on a phased basis will be required to take either annual leave, TOIL or be paid on a part-time basis; sick pay entitlements will not be used.

Prior to an employee’s return to work there should be a meeting with the line manager during which a phased return plan can be discussed and agreed (annex B). During the phased return period line managers must endeavour to meet on a regular basis with employees to monitor the progress being made and if at any time either party feel that adjustments to the original phased return plan would be beneficial this can be discussed and a revised plan can be implemented.

7.3       Ongoing Medical Conditions

NICVA recognises that there may be situations where an employee has ongoing health related problems, or that such problems that impacts on an individual’s ability to perform their duties may develop through the course of their employment. Where there is a clear indication that an ongoing medical condition is impacting on an employee’s ability to perform their normal duties the following three step procedure should be followed:

  • Occupational Health Referral – advice should be sought as to the best course of action.
  • Reasonable Adjustments – where an employee’s health condition is classed as a disability under the provisions of the Disability Discrimination Act 1995, NICVA will meet its legal obligations to make reasonable adjustments to the employee’s current post or seek suitable alternative employment for the employee.
  • Review – hold a meeting to see if the employee’s substantive post is unsuitable due to their ongoing medical condition even with the reasonable adjustments as above. Consideration will always be given to moving an employee to an alternative post if possible, however this may not be possible and in such cases consideration will be given to the employee’s future within the organisation.  Where termination of the contract of employment is considered the HR Manager will work with the Line Manager to ensure that appropriate medical evidence is gathered to support, or otherwise, if the employee is eligible for ill health retirement.

7.4       Ill Health Dismissal

Where all other options have been exhausted, dismissal on the grounds of ill health will need to be considered.

 If the employee's illness is terminal and there is a life assurance policy in operation, NICVA will endeavour to retain the employee so as to afford the employee's family consideration of benefits therein.

 

8.0       Pay During Sick Leave

Subject to the conditions of this section an employee absent from duty as a result of sickness will be entitled in any one period of 12 months, to paid sick leave in accordance with the following table:

Service at Commencement

Full Normal Pay

Half Normal Pay

During 1st year

1 month

1 month

During 2nd year

2 months

2 months

During 3rd year

4 months

4 months

During 4th/5th year

5 months

5 months

During 5th year and subsequent years

6 months

6 months

 

This entitlement is subject to the provision that not more than 12 months paid sick leave shall be taken in any period of four years or less, and not more than six months at full pay in any period of 12 months.

Sickness entitlement is calculated on a rolling year basis.  A rolling year is the year immediately preceding the start of a period of sickness.  For example if sickness absence commenced on 4 September 2018 then sickness entitlement is calculated on the amount of sickness absence taken since 4 September 2017.

Employees will be given notice in writing by their Line Manager at least two weeks in advance of a transfer from full to half pay entitlement and of the half pay entitlement ceasing.

Although NICVA provides sick pay allowances as outlined above, it is legally obliged to maintain records of all absences due to sickness or incapacity in accordance with the Statutory Sick Pay Scheme (SSP).  For this reason, it is important for staff to be aware of the need to notify all absences due to sickness or incapacity.

Any queries regarding the operation of the Statutory Sick Pay Scheme (SSP) should be addressed to the Finance Manager.

8.1       Annual leave and sickness absence

All periods of paid sick leave will accrue annual leave entitlement. Where an employee has been unable to take their annual leave then they will be permitted to carry forward the unused annual leave entitlement into the next holiday year.

Holidays which have been carried forward from one holiday year to the next due to sickness must be used within 18 months from the end of the holiday year in which they had been accrued i.e. holidays carried forward from the 2018 holiday year must be taken before the end of October 2020. If an employee is still unable to take the annual leave within this period, then they will lose the carried forward annual leave entitlement. 

When sickness falls on a public holiday or during a period of annual leave, employees will be entitled to time off in lieu, provided a doctor's certificate is produced.  The doctor’s certificate should not be retrospective and employees should contact their line manager, Manager or another Line Manager to report the illness in the usual way.  In the case of office closure, the employee should contact an appropriate person on their mobile or home number.  If the employee is unable to make contact at this time, they should do so at the earliest opportunity.

 

9.0       Absence for Reasons Other Than Sickness

9.1       Medical appointments

Routine dental and doctor appointments must be made as far as possible in the employee’s own time.  Where this is not possible, routine dental and doctor appointments should be agreed with the line manager for the beginning or end of the working day or during lunch break.  If an employee is likely to be absent for more than one hour of their normal working day, leave or time off in lieu must be taken by the employee.  This will also apply to employees who are required to bring children or people in their care for appointments.

9.2       Hospital appointments

Time off for hospital appointments or treatments will be given to all employees provided an appearance at work is made prior to or after the hospital appointment where possible.  An appointment card or letter must be shown to the employee’s line manager. Any subsequent absence associated with the hospital treatment/appointment will be recorded as sickness absence.

 

10.       Special Considerations

10.1    Pregnancy related sickness absence

Employees who are pregnant, have just given birth or are breastfeeding are given special consideration under this policy. Where an employee is absent due to a pregnancy related illness it should continue to be recorded however it shall not be considered when taking into account absence triggers. Line managers are however entitled to manage the absence as with any other absence, and in instances of repeated absence due to pregnancy related illness a medical opinion may be sought.

Where an employee is absent with a pregnancy related illness 4 weeks before the expected date of confinement, this will automatically trigger the commencement of the maternity leave.

10.2    Disability

Under the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 and other disability legislation in Northern Ireland, if a person has a physical or mental impairment which has a substantial or long-term adverse effect on their ability to carry out normal day to day activities they are considered as disabled.  If an employee becomes disabled or has a disability which worsens or develops into a progressive illness, NICVA will take all reasonable steps to make an adjustment to working conditions or to the working environment to overcome the practical effects of the disability.

In all instances where an employee has a disability, medical or specialist advice will be obtained on how best to accommodate the disability, and NICVA will fully consult with the employee regarding any potential reasonable adjustments.

It should be noted that if an individual is diagnosed with cancer, an HIV infection or multiple sclerosis they automatically meet the definition of disability under the Disability Discrimination Act 1995.

 

11.       Annexes:

11.1    Return to Discussion record and Self Certification form

11.2    Phased Return Plan - template

12.       Further Information

Special Leave Policy

Maternity Policy

Confidentiality Policy

Equal Opportunities Policy

We share NICVA’s policies to assist organisations in drafting their own. However, our policies are relevant to NICVA and are not samples. They should not be replicated, but may be used for reference purposes, in conjunction with other guidance available. NICVA cannot accept any claims arising from error or misinterpretation.
alex.hastings@nicva.org's picture
by Alex Hastings

Human Resources Manager

[email protected]

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