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Managing Sickness, Supporting Working - Guidance for Managers

This webpage provides guidance for managers where employees are unable to attend work due to sickness or need additional support.

This webpage provides guidance for managers where employees are unable to attend work or need additional support in order to remain at work due to ill health. It is advised that you read this guidance document alongside the Guidance for Employees and familiarise yourself with the Managing Sickness Policy and Procedure. As a line manager, you should also ensure that employees that report to you are aware of their responsibilities under this policy.

These documents will provide you with an understanding of the rights and entitlements of the employee, whilst giving you information as to how to support them as a manager. Your HR Advisor will be happy to discuss this with you in more detail and answer any queries you may have.

Wellbeing at the University

At the University of Bath, we have adopted a whole university approach to mental wellbeing, and we aspire to create a learning environment and organisational culture that enhances health and wellbeing across our community. As part of our ongoing commitment to develop our community’s health and wellbeing, we offer a range of training and resources to improve the mental and physical wellbeing of our staff.

A good place to start is the University's Wellbeing webpage which provides tools that employees can work through on their own, or with the help of their line manager.

What resources are available to support staff wellbeing at the University?

The University of Bath provides a free and confidential counselling service Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) for staff. This service is based at the Royal United Hospital, Bath. Employees can book an appointment by contacting EAP directly on (01225) 825960 or (01225) 824484. Another service that is available to employees is The Education Support Partnership, which is an independent counselling service dedicated to supporting staff in higher education.

Assistive Technology are a service that employees can access to improve productivity at work and would be of particular use for employees who have a medical condition or a disability. If an employee needs additional support, then they can access Assistive Technology via the University website, or by visiting the service desk in the Library.

The University also has a team of volunteer Wellbeing Champions who can signpost staff to resources and support services. A list of University Wellbeing Champions can be found here.

When you are informed by an employee that they are unwell

When an employee is unwell and unable to attend work, they must report their absence by speaking to you directly, no later than 30 minutes prior to their start time (unless other local arrangements have been agreed).
During this conversation you will need to confirm:

  • The reason for their absence

  • The expected duration of the absence and the expected date of return

  • Contact details in the event that you or the department need to contact them. This may already be available on iTrent

  • If the absence is work related, including any accident at work

  • Any support that they may require to facilitate their return to work

It is important that this conversation is supportive, and that you provide your employee with information about the variety of support services for staff that are available at the University.

Types of Absence

To manage the attendance of employees most effectively, all sickness related absences under the managing sickness policy fall into one of two categories.

  1. Short Term Sickness Absence is defined as sporadic episodes of sickness, normally without an identified underlying health cause.

  2. Long Term Sickness Absence is defined as a period of sickness, normally with an underlying health cause which:

i. normally lasts for more than 4 weeks continuously or

ii. affects a member of staff periodically with a single diagnosed medical cause linked to a chronic long-term medical condition.

What you need to do whilst your employee is absent from work

During your employees’ period of ill health, you are expected to maintain regular contact with them. You can arrange the regularity of this during the initial conversation with them when they first report their absence.

Once you have been informed that a member of staff is unwell, you will need to record that the individual is absent by entering the details onto iTrent via Manager Self Service.

Medical Certification

Where a member of staff is absent for less than 7 calendar days, there will normally be no requirement for a medical certificate (Fit Note) to be submitted, as the employee can self-certify their absence. However, where a member of staff is absent for more than 7 calendar days a medical certificate (Fit Note) must be provided to you in good time, and to continuously cover the period of their absence without breaks. You are responsible for collating this information and uploading it to iTrent.

Where an employee is too unwell to attend work, the option of homeworking may be discussed should this be considered an appropriate adjustment. However, a member of staff should not decide or request to work from home instead of reporting their absence, and they should not work from home when signed off sick unless there is advice and agreement for this.

Medical Appointments

Medical appointments should, where reasonably practicable, be booked outside of an employee’s normal working hours. Where this is not practicable, paid time off will be granted.

Where medical appointments are in work time, the employee should inform you and provide you with as much advance notice of the appointment as possible. They should ensure that the time of the appointment causes as little disruption as possible to their working day e.g., by booking appointments at the start or end of the day where possible.

Sickness absence and annual leave

If an employee is unwell during a period of annual leave, they should inform you of this on the first day of their sickness and provide a fit note which covers the full period of their absence. They will be considered unwell from the date outlined on the fit note. Where this process has been followed, they will be entitled to take the annual leave that fell within their period of ill health at a later date.

If a member of staff travels abroad during a period of sickness absence, they must inform you in advance to explain the reasoning. During this conversation, contact details should be agreed and communication should be maintained throughout the absence. It is important that the employee provides medical certificates for the duration of the absence, alongside a certified translation.

Return to work discussions

When an employee returns to work following a period of ill health you will need to carry out a return-to-work meeting prior to their starting work. This conversation can be recorded on the return to work form. Return-to-work meetings are informal and allow you to discuss a recent sickness absence to ensure that the employee is welcomed back to work, is fit to work, is aware of any developments that they may have missed whilst absent, has provided all of the relevant supporting medical information required and updated their iTrent record via Employee Self Service. This meeting will provide you with an opportunity to understand any underlying issues at an early stage, so that adjustments can be considered and implemented in good time.

A return-to-work discussion should take place after every absence, regardless of the length of the absence. However, the nature of the meeting may differ depending on the circumstances such as:

  • Where the employee is returning from a short-term absence and they have not identified an underlying health condition, a short conversation will normally be appropriate.

  • If an employee is currently under sickness absence monitoring or you need to raise a concern with the employee, a more structured discussion may take place and a return-to-work form completed.

  • Where an employee is returning from a longer period of absence, or has an ongoing health condition, it is possible that they will need further support or workplace adjustments. In these circumstances, it would be appropriate to hold a more structured review meeting and complete an Agreement for Adjustments.

Some key points to consider when you are holding a return-to-work meeting are:

  • Return to work meetings should be conducted in private, with sensitivity, and any issues should be explored in a caring and concerned manner

  • The employee should be provided with the opportunity to explain the reason behind their absence without prejudgement, and you should encourage open discussion

  • You should refrain from making assumptions about the absence and do not attempt to give any advice that you are not qualified to provide

  • You should consider how the employee’s absence level compares with other absence levels in the team, and ensure that all staff are treated in a fair and consistent manner

Sickness Absence Monitoring

As a line manager you are expected to monitor the absence levels in your team/area. This information can be accessed through iTrent on Manager Self-Service. The purpose of this is to identify:

  • Trends and patterns of absence

  • Any concerns arising from the number of occasions or days

  • Sickness absence reasons

As a line manager you are expected to instigate and carry out the managing sickness procedures where appropriate. The purpose of these procedures is to work with the employee and to support them in improving their attendance.

Where you are planning to instigate either the short or long-term sickness absence procedure, you should seek guidance from your HR Business Partner/Advisor.

If you become aware that a member of staff has an underlying health condition, they should be managed under the long-term sickness absence procedure process, as detailed in the Managing Sickness Policy.

If you are concerned about an employee’s level of attendance or health

Where you are concerned about an employee’s attendance or health you should arrange to have a discussion with them so that you can offer them support where appropriate and understand if there are any underlying causes for the absences that you need to be aware of. During this meeting you should:

  • Hold a supportive meeting in a confidential setting
  • Use the Support Fair template for guidance on key topics to cover during the conversation
  • Share the outcome of the meeting with the employee and ask them to confirm that the contents are accurate. You should ask the employee to confirm the accuracy of the notes in writing, and make sure the employee has a copy to keep for their records.
  • Arrange and hold a review meeting with the employee, usually within three months of the initial meeting.

Short Term Absence Procedure

Where a member of staff has had 5 occasions or 12 days of sickness absence (pro rata for part time employees) in any 12-month rolling period and they have not informed you that they have an underlying health condition they should normally be managed under the short-term sickness absence procedure, as outlined in the Managing Sickness Policy.

At this point, you should review the employee’s absence record and determine whether the short-term absence procedure should be initiated. It is your responsibility to address frequent short-term absences in a fair and consistent manner, and to provide the advice and support required to help an employee to meet the expected level of attendance moving forward.

Keeping lines of communication open between yourself and an employee is vital, so that any health concerns that may have an impact on their performance at work can be discussed with you at the earliest opportunity.

Long Term Absence Procedure

Where you have been informed that a member of staff will be absent for a continuous period of 4 weeks or more, or where periodic absences are linked to a health condition, their situation should normally be managed under the long-term absence procedure.

Where an employee is expected to be absent for a period of more than four weeks you should agree how often you will keep in touch with the employee throughout their absence and how this communication will take place. This is to enable you to support the employee whilst they are unwell and provide them with the opportunity to update you about any changes to their situation.

If an employee has an underlying health condition or disability that might impact them at work, it is important that they feel able to approach you about it and conversations about their health should be carried out sensitively. By understanding their health condition, you will be better able to offer the support that they might require at work.

Where an employee has an underlying health condition or a long-term absence further advice should be sought from Human Resources and it may also be appropriate to refer the employee to Occupational Health.

Reasonable Adjustments

Most individuals are able to work without the need for any adjustments to be made to their working arrangements. However, some individuals may need the extra support.

Such circumstances may be required where:

  • They have been absent with a condition that impacts on their capability to undertake particular work activities.

  • They have been suffering from serious, long-term physical or mental ill health.

  • They have had surgery or an extended stay in hospital.

  • They have a new disability or a new restriction to their physical capability. Advise the employee that they can apply for Disability Leave.

  • They will continue to need treatment for their illness following their return to work.

If an employee has indicated that they require adjustments in returning to work, they should inform you promptly so that consideration can be given to any assistance they may require.

Any recommended adjustments can be reviewed either as part of a return-to-work meeting or using the Adjustments Agreement form as part of the Long-Term Sickness Absence Procedure.

As each individuals’ circumstances will be unique, it is important that you engage the employee in any discussions about proposed adjustments before they are finalised. This will ensure that their needs, as well as the needs of the departmental operation are met. When organising an employee’s return to work, it is essential that everyone involved in the process has a shared understanding of what is required, where the responsibility lies, and the timeframe for implementation.

Phased Return to Work

A doctor may recommend that an employee has a phased return to work. Where this is the case, the employee is required to provide a fit note confirming this. This may suggest that an employee temporarily have amended duties or hours. The University will normally support employees with a phased return to work of up to four weeks.

If an employee makes you aware that reduced hours or adjusted duties are required for longer than four weeks, or the adjustments requested cannot be reasonably be implemented, then further support should be sought from Human Resources.

Occupational Health

Where an individual has a health condition that is likely to impact them on an ongoing basis at work, it may be appropriate to refer them to Occupational Health, who can provide advice on a range of areas including (but not limited to):

  • The potential impact that a medical condition may have on an employee’s ability to attend work/carry out their duties

  • Timescales for a return to work

  • If workplace adjustments may be deemed appropriate

Referrals to Occupational Health should be discussed with your HR Advisor or Business Partner who will be able to advise you on whether it would be appropriate.

Where an employee is unable to return to work

In the very unfortunate event that an employee is not well enough to return to their current role, or their attendance is not sustainable, and any possible reasonable adjustments have been considered, the University will:

  • Wherever possible, make every reasonable effort to support them in being redeployed to a vacancy that exists elsewhere at the University. They are expected to play an active role in identifying any suitable redeployment opportunity and would have priority status under the redeployment process. Where an employee is redeployed to another position a trial period of 4-weeks will normally be applied to assess whether the redeployment position offered is appropriate and the employee can perform the duties required. If the new post being trialled is at a lower grade the employee will remain on their higher salary for the period of the trial and then move onto the lower salary of the redeployment post from the end of the 4-week trial period.

  • They may be eligible for ill health retirement. The process will vary depending upon which pension scheme you are in and any application for ill health retirement would need to be supported by Occupational Health.

There will be some occasions that, despite the efforts of all parties involved, it is not possible for an individual to continue working in their current role and neither redeployment nor ill-health retirement are possible. These situations are managed in line with the sickness absence procedure.

Only once all alternative options have been considered and either determined unsuccessful, unreasonable, unavailable, ineffective or inappropriate, should you consider, with support from Human Resources, whether to refer the situation to a formal meeting to determine whether the individual’s employment should end due to incapability due to ill-health.

Associated policies and guidance include:

Flexible Working and Leave Policy

Domestic Abuse: Guidance for Managers and Staff

Capability Procedure

Managing Substance Misuse in Staff and Contractors guidelines

Menopause Guidance for Managers