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Intermittent Sickness

Intermittent sickness is a period of absence lasting less than 4 weeks.

Frequent intermittent sickness absence can be disruptive to teams and services. It can also indicate a bigger problem with an individual or wider problem within your team.  Spotting problems early will enable you to put the right support in place. To do this you'll need to:

  • review the absence history of your staff regularly and look for any patterns. 
  • discuss anything you notice with your staff to identify any underlying causes
  • if there are underlying health problems, or this is suspected, refer to occupational health (OH) 
  • discuss health and wellbeing at meetings and encourage staff to be aware of looking after themselves physically and mentally.  
  • Identify employee reaching action trigger levels and taking appropriate action

The trigger action points for intermittent absence with the council is set at 6 cumulative days within a rolling 12 month period or 4 separate occasions of absence within a rolling 12 - month period. 

In certain limited circumstances, it may be appropriate for you to apply a degree of discretion where grounds exist to justify taking an alternative or modified course of action to that normally required by a formal policy or practice.  Before applying this contact HR to discuss first.

If the employee absence is pregnancy related this will automatically disregarded as per legislation.


Spotting frequent, intermittent absences and identifying any patterns to these can help you to address any problems that might be developing with individuals or your team. As a manager, it is your responsibility to review absence history and discuss any problems with your staff. Identifying potential problems early will enable you to put the right support in place to minimise future absences.

  • Know what your looking for: when reviewing absence history, look for patterns to the absence, for example, a collection of Fridays or Mondays or days after a bank holiday. Also look for themes in the reasons given for absence and review any fit notes for recurring information.If patterns of absence are identified, including evidence of staff manipulating absences to avoid trigger to subsequent stages, can be dealt with under the disciplinary process.pdf icon Disciplinary Procedure - Manager's Guide [291kb]
  • Discuss what you find: where a pattern is identified, speak to the individual about it to see if there is any underlying reason for the absences. Often, just having a conversation is enough to alert staff to the need to address any underlying causes or behaviour. In some cases, however, you could have uncovered an underlying health or mental health problem, difficulties within the team or a problem with the working environment .  If no underlying issue is evident, you should be clear with your staff member that their attendance needs to improve, how this will be measured, and the consequences if it does not. Refer to the pdf icon Supporting Attendance at Work Policy & Procedures [874kb] for guidance on this.
  • Monitor the situation: Keep track of whether an absence pattern is improving or getting worse and look out for any unusual patterns of absence, e.g. if a staff member is experiencing more absences, or more frequent absences than usual. Your observations could enable further discussions and identify emerging issues.
  • Be sensitive and supportive: Adapting your approach depending on what you find, and your staff member's reaction, should enable you to be sensitive where necessary and find the right mix of supportive and firm. You need to approach such situations as a line manager and not a clinician. It is important to be mindful of the cost and effects of frequent absence on the workload and the team whilst remembering that there may be personal or sensitive circumstances affecting absence. If you notice someone is becoming withdrawn and quiet, create a suitable confidential environment to tell them what you have noticed, ask them if they are ok and offer them the opportunity to discuss things.
  • Know where to go for help: West Lothian Council has policies on things like special leave, should your staff require a period of time away for personal reasons.  This would cover things like special leave for care of an ill dependant, leave to deal with an unforeseen emergency situation, reasonable time off to attend a hospital appointment, reasonable pdf icon time off to take a dependant for hospital treatment, preventative medical examinations etc [178kb].  Occupational Health can also help with signposting to specialist services, e.g. for drug or alcohol dependency, domestic violence or depression etc.


Early interventions

The Council has a number of supports available for employees to access services such as Physiotherapy and the Employee Assistance Programme could help them return to work sooner.  

  • Access to Physiotherapy services is through you their line manager who will refer them and provide the contact number to arrange a suitable time and date for them to attend.  They will be authorised time away from their normal work to attend these appointments however they will need to notify you in the first instance. 
  • Access to the Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) is available by a freephone telephone number (0800 0285 148).  This service is available 24/7/365 days a year and is highly confidential.  Should the employee be triaged to face to face counselling services they will be authorised time away from their normal duties to attend these appointments, however they will need to notify you in the first instance. 
  • Access to wellbeing supports are available through the Council's intranet site.  Direct staff to this site for them to access a number of supports either through the council directly or through local/national supports and charities.  Including in the site is a number of self help supports and information on the healthy working lives events held periodically through the year.  As a manager you are required to hold quarterly employee wellbeing briefings as directed by HR.
Consider reasonable adjustments

Usually staff will be able to return to their role and work environment. However, you may need to ask if any adjustments could be made to allow them to return to work and/or prevent further absences. The sooner you have this conversation, the more time you will have to arrange for the support, equipment or adjustments needed. Making adjustments could also mean your staff member could return to work sooner. pdf icon Management Guidance - Reasonable Adjustments [254kb] 

Some examples of reasonable adjustments include:

  • adjustment to premises
  • information in accessible formats
  • allocating some duties elsewhere
  • alternative employment
  • altering hours
  • relaxation of trigger levels
  • alternative workplace or home working
  • time off for rehabilitation. assessment or treatment
  • modifying equipment
  • providing supervision or other support
  • granting period of special leave
  • employing a support worker to assist

This list isn't exhaustive but gives an indication of some of the adjustments that can be made either on a permanent or temporary arrangement to support your return to work.

Tailored adjustment plans are also good for facilitating conversations on underlying health issues and include plans for mental health concerns identified.

The Equality Act requires the Council to consider reasonable adjustments for those with a disability covered by the Act therefore further advice may be required by Occupational Health to assist in making those adjustments.  HR can also provide support and assistance in identifying and implementing adjustments even on a temporary basis.

Management discretion

ALL sickness absences that trigger to the next stage of the process will be acted upon unless one or other of the following applies;

  1. There is a legal obligation placed upon the council to apply a reasonable adjustment under the Equality Act in respect of an employee who has a disability see pdf icon Managers Guide to Reasonable Adjustments [254kb], OR
  2. Based on the individual circumstances of the case, there are grounds (other than related to the Equality Act) for not acting on the trigger see pdf icon Management Guidance on Applying Discretion [265kb]

Applying discretion is a means by which line managers can respond to situations that call for a compassionate implementation of the Supporting Attendance Policy. The aim is for employees to feel that they have been treated fairly and reasonably under the policy.  The application of discretion should not simply be to defer an employees progress through the sickness absence process but rather recognise the extenuating circumstances and offering support which would not otherwise be achievable through a strict application of the policy.

Each case should be viewed on its own individual merits, no two cases will be identical nor will they necessarily merit the same treatment. However in the interests of consistency, the manager would be expected to discuss with HR in the first instance and to consider the relevant factors in each case.  

You are required to record reasonable adjustments and discretion applied for all cases in HR21 .  If you require assistance in accessing this please contact Alternatively you can complete the necessary forms on mytoolkit and forward them to

Corporate Trigger Action Points - Intermittent

Absence levels that reach the corporate action trigger points will result in automatic intervention by an you their line manager. For absence that occurs on an intermittent basis, the corporate action trigger points is set at 6 cumulative days within a rolling 12 month period or 4 separate occasions of absence within a rolling 12 month period.

Where a corporate action trigger point is reached, either as a result of intermittent absence, continuous absence or a combination of both, action must be taken by you at one of the following stages of the procedure:

  • Informal Review Meeting - conducted when an employee's absence reaches the corporate action trigger point for the first time within a rolling 12 month period
  • Stage 1 Absence Meeting - to be held when an employee's absence again reaches the corporate action trigger point within a rolling 12 month period
  • Stage 2 Absence Meeting - to be held when an employee's absence again reaches the corporate action trigger point within a 12 month rolling period
  • Stage 3 Capability Assessment Meeting - to be held when an employee's absence again reaches the corporate action trigger point within a 12 month rolling period

Prior to a Capability Assessment Meeting being convened a Capability Assessment Panel will be held, where you as the line manager, HR and Head of Service will all be in attendance.  If no further action is being take as the line manager you will notify the employee in writing the decision of the panel, otherwise they will be required to attend a Capability Assessment Meeting with the Head of Service and yourself in attendance.