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Continuous Absences

Continuous sickness absence is usually defined as a period of absence lasting more than 4 weeks.

Continuous sickness absence is defined as a period of sickness absence lasting more than 4 weeks.

Your role is to support your staff to maintain a connection with the workplace.  You also need to make sure their work is picked up and this doesn't have a detrimental effect on the service, as well as ensuring that the Council is doing all it can to facilitate a return to work.

Continuous absence levels that reach the corporate action trigger points will result in automatic intervention by you .  For periods of absence that are continuous, the corporate action trigger points are set as follows:

  • 4 weeks of absence
  • 3 months of absence
  • 6 months of absence
  • 9 months of absence

.At each of these points you are required to hold a meeting under the pdf icon Supporting Attendance at Work Policy & Procedure [874kb] to discuss the employees absence and what supports could be considered to assist the employee back to work, where appropriate.

Management supports
Keep in contact

Over and above the corporate action trigger points it is very important to maintain regular contact with your employee when their absence becomes continuous. Regular contact could be weekly, fortnightly or monthly dependant on the circumstances, each case is different and judgements should be used on what is most appropriate to support the individual back to work.  By keeping in regular contact this will allow you to keep track of their progress and will also provide an important connection for your staff member back to the world of work.

Agree with the employee how and when you will catch up and how they will keep you informed of any developments in their treatment and recovery. You want them to feel that you are sympathetic to their situation, but that you are also keeping them under review so you can support them back into the workplace.

Corporate Trigger Action Points - Continuous

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 the line manager at one of the following stages of the procedure:

  • Informal Review Meeting -on reaching 4 weeks of continuous absence 
  • Stage 1 Absence Meeting - to be held when on reaching 3 months of continuous absence 
  • Stage 2 Absence Meeting - to be held when on reaching 6 months of continuous absence 
  • Stage 3 Capability Assessment Meeting - to be held on reaching 9 months of continuous absence

The key to actively managing continuous sickness absence is to always know what the next step will be for your employee, even if it is that they have an appointment booked which they are waiting for. This allows you to support your employee as much as possible throughout the absence and helps you to avoid allowing the absence to drift, and the employee to feel forgotten about. Keeping in regular contact will keep you abreast of developments and allow early support mechanisms be put in place if appropriate.

Intermittent & continuous absences:  Where an employee's absence pattern changes from being continuous to intermittent in nature or vice versa, progression through the stages of the procedure will continue taking account of both types of absence.  For example, an employee who is at Stage 1 of the procedure as a result of intermittent absence will progress to Stage 2 if they are continuously absent for 3 months within the monitoring period. Similarly, an employee who is at Stage 1 of the procedure as a result of continuous absence will progress to Stage 2 if, following return to work the employee subsequently reaches the corporate action trigger point for intermittent absence within the monitoring period.

If employee returns to work: An employee returning to work following a period of continuous absence will be dealt with at the appropriate stage of the procedure as set out above . If any adjustments are required to facilitate this return to work such as OH recommended phased returns to work, temporary work duties etc., then this should be agreed in advance of the return with the employee and regularly reviews should be held with the employee to ensure it remains relevant.

Reasonable adjustments

The Equality Act 2010 places a duty on an employer to consider pdf icon Management Guidance - Reasonable Adjustments [254kb] where a 'provision, criterion or practice' (PCP) puts a disabled employee at a substantial disadvantage. 

In identifying what might constitute an appropriate reasonable adjustment for individual with underlying health conditions, medical information should be sought from Occupational health followed by direct consultation with the employee concerned so the employee will be able to advise of the limitations he /she is faced with as a consequence of their disability/health condition.  Human Resources are able to provide support on what reasonable adjustments/supports may be available also.  pdf icon Management Guidance - Reasonable Adjustments [254kb]

These adjustments require discussions with HR, and possibly Occupational Health and depends on the impact it could have on service delivery, however some examples may 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 employees return to work. 

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   .  If you require assistance in accessing this please contact HR21Queries@westlothian.gov.uk  or alternatively complete the relevant Supporting Attendance at Work Forms on MyToolkit and forward to sicknessabsence@westlothian.gov.uk

Medical Redeployments

In the event that the council's Occupational Health Adviser concludes that an employee is no longer fit to carry out the duties of his/her post, the possibility of offering the employee an alternative post will be investigated before a decision is taken to terminate the employee's employment.

The ability to redeploy an employee will depend on the availability of suitable vacancies at that time within or out with the employing service. The search for alternative employment in these circumstances will normally be undertaken for no longer than 3 months after which the employee's contract of employment will be terminated.

If an employee refuses to accept an offer of alternative employment that is considered to be reasonable in all the circumstances, the reasons for the refusal will be discussed with the employee and his/her representative if any. Where the employing service is satisfied that the offer is reasonable but the employee still refuses to accept it, the service will have no option but to dismiss the employee.

Where it is possible to identify an alternative post the employee shall be offered the post on the basis of the terms and conditions that apply to that particular post. No protection of the employee's existing contractual terms will apply. Offers of alternative employment will normally include provision of a trial period in accordance with the terms of the council's 

Permanent ill health - access to pension benefits

Following a referral to OH, if the opinion of the OH Adviser is that the employee is permanently unfit to carry out the duties of his/her post, then the appropriate paperwork will be completed as to what tier they qualify and a Capability Assessment meeting will be convened with the Head of Service.  HR will always be in attendance at capability assessment meetings along with the line manager.  The employee will then be terminated on the grounds of ill-health and they will be able to access their pension at the appropriate tier.  Permanent ill health is only available for employees who have been in the pension for two or more years at the time of assessment for ill-health. 

If an employee disagrees with the OH decision they have the right of appeal under the Lothian Pension Dispute regulations, details of which will be provided at the final absence meeting and confirmed in writing.  This does not prevent the Head of Service dismissing the employee due to sustainability; however this is up to the Head of Service to make that decision.

Capability assessment meeting

Prior to the final absence being heard an OH referral would be required with an OH Adviser to determine the employee's fitness to return to work and sustain their attendance at work.  Where the OH Adviser's report indicates that an employee is unlikely to be fit to return to work following a period of continuous and prolonged absence, pdf icon a capability assessment meeting [96kb] with the Head of Service will be arranged with HR and the line manager in attendance.