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Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Sickness Absence

Or "do not get ill!" More on this exciting subject (there is really no excitement just wonderment at the appalling situation) reaches the RCTU from members.

Our members who are managers are telling us this is creating huge problems for them where it is clear someone has suffered, through no fault of their own, an unfortunate illness and exceeded the “trigger point” and even when they could be discounted under the very very few and sparse “exclusions”, the manager is still instructed to issue a written warning. The “guidance” when read carefully takes all discretion away from the manager – especially where the “policy” is further “guided” by differing command interpretations. Managers see the staff member visibly hurt and shocked and then have to deal with what they know is a terrible situation. The stress on managers is appalling – and what is that impacts their ability to work? Don’t get sick!

We will see the situation, if it does not already exist, where someone with little or no sick absence for many years has the misfortune to have a serious illness – one that takes time to recover from but less than a year – so is not covered by the Equality Act ( not that the “guidance” offers much protection there as the new Disability Trigger Point guidance is very loose and offers little real help to those covered by the Act and the employer believes by offering something , that that is “reasonable” and therefore they have complied with the Act – but we disagree and digress ) . The person incurs more than their trigger point (let us say the TP was 8 days and then have 20 days’ illness) and gets a formal warning – has more sick leave in the “monitoring period” of 10 days with a TP for that period of 4 days – then they face demotion or dismissal. In the current climate with OH reports, at a reasonable standard for once, being used in a somewhat cavalier way by the employer – the outcome here is precarious and unpredictable. Fanciful? No. (we will not mention too much the issue of the revised and very poor compensation scheme and the new HMRC “guidance” on what ting percentage of that you could get (read little or no and that means you have to appeal and challenge and and and …) – it is even more depressing reading than the “guidance” on managing sickness!

There is an urgent need to drastically reform this guidance.

“Why are they doing this?” – the frequent question we are asked. In our extensive experience, it is usually another “initiative” to reduce Average Working Days Lost” and failure to manage Long Term Sick Leave is usually why this is high. Firstly, there exists no evidence that the majority of sickness absence is anything other than genuine. To a line manager it is obvious when it is not and the previous systems always address this. Used correctly it works. Secondly taking an aggressive stance by the employer is counterproductive in terms of staff engagement, additional absences through stress and general negative impacts. Thirdly the “baseball bat approach for all” is plain dumb. It degrades managers and staff alike as it is a symptom of a deeper malaise in an organisation. Lastly why is the cause of the vast majority of sickness absence? Stress. Too much of that is work related – usually not applicable for Trigger Points but it does depend on how one may wish to read the guidance as just because it says things does not mean that they mean what they say ….

To the question “Is this a nasty way to get rid of staff” – possibly and it needs to be asked but in general it is not. That said it is obvious that the “grand plan” is not really on course and there are financial issues and one big cost is … staff salaries.

So, work hard – get an “achieved” (sorry couldn’t resist that) – get sick and get sacked after years of loyal service – and as for pay …..(don’t mention pensions)

Our strong advice is for members to take preventive action while this “guidance” exists – get your Passport (if you qualify), keep it up to date, be pro-active in dealing with stress (help, assistance, plans and records), ensure that where applicable DTPs are reviewed and checked and express your concerns in a measured and correct manner (roll on next survey).

The RCTU wants to hear of more examples (other than those where we represent members) that members hear about what is happening. The RCTU officers are due to meet soon to determine what actions we need to take in bringing this issue and examples of the impact of it to the attention of senior managers.


The RCTU is sensing an increase in these where staff feel (rightly or wrongly) that this is the option to take. Frankly the guidance is not good enough as we have said in previous articles but also, we feel that due to other factors such as managing sickness absence, as but just ONE example, the deterioration between staff, managers and teams even is being pushed to extremes and as a consequence we see grievances which are a reflection of frustration.

The process is not easy and effects all involved and never for the better. The impact and outcomes in many cases make things worse for all concerned.

This is NOT to say that all grievances are wrong and should not be contemplated. Far from it but usually with good systems and processes and early and open dialogue many situations which lead to them can be averted. However, many of these factors are outside of those involved to control. The impact of a flawed process or systems can and does have far reaching effects.

We are concerned for managers and staff alike in the current circumstances.

What are your views?




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