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Sickness absence policy

  1. Principles of the policy
  2. Procedure
  3. Self certificate
  4. Fit note
  5. Short-term absence/self-certified absence
  6. Long-term absence
  7. The role of Human Resources
  8. The role of Management, Line Managers and Supervisors
  9. The role and responsibilities of the individual
  10. The role of the Occupational Health Service
  11. Other relevant questions
  12. Points of note
  13. Absence management flow chart
  14. Absence reporting procedure flow chart
  15. Role of the Occupational Health Service in long term absence flow chart
  16. Return to work interviews - Guidance for Line Managers/Supervisors

Principles of the policy

The well being of any organisation is directly related to the well being of the people who make up the organisation. The University wishes to develop and maintain policies that provide all members of staff with appropriate support in relation to their health. The following guidelines on sickness absence have been formulated to ensure the smooth running of the organisation and appropriate support for staff with health difficulties.

The University aims to secure the regular attendance at work of staff in order to meet contractual obligations. It does, however, recognise that a level of absence may be necessary on medical grounds. It is the University’s policy to offer security of employment during such periods, bearing in mind its obligations under the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 and the need to ensure the efficient and effective operation of all parts of the University.

You should note the following:

  • The Sickness Absence Policy applies to all staff.
  • The Policy and Procedure are designed to give appropriate support to members of staff affected by ill health.
  • The procedure must be followed. Failure to comply with the procedure may result in sickness payments being stopped or suspended and may ultimately result in disciplinary action.
  • The University will consult its Occupational Health Service where ill health may be affecting the ability of the member of staff. The Occupational Health Service will undertake a comprehensive consultation with the member of staff, and if relevant and with their permission, seek further reports from general practitioners, hospital specialists etc. Members of staff may choose to see these reports in compliance with the Access to Medical Reports Act 1988.
  • Individuals are free to contact Human Resources and the Occupational Health Service at any time to discuss their absence or seek advice.


It is essential that the following procedures be carried out with tact and sensitivity. The management of sickness absence is the joint responsibility of the Head of School/Unit and the individual member of staff.

  • In order to qualify for payment under the University’s sickness absence scheme, members of staff who are prevented by sickness from reporting for duty shall, within 1 hour of the normal start time on the first day of absence, inform their Head of School/Unit/Designated Officer.
  • Staff must provide the necessary information to enable Part A of the self-certification form to be completed by the Head of School/Unit/Designated Officer (i.e. the reason for absence).
  • Staff who fail to comply with the procedure for notification without good cause may have their pay stopped or suspended and could ultimately face disciplinary action.
  • Heads of School/Unit/Designated Officers will attempt to contact staff who fail to report in on their first day of absence by 5pm that day to determine the cause of the absence, render advice if needed and determine when the person may be returning to work.
  • If the absence continues beyond 3 calendar days, the member of staff shall inform their Head of School/Unit/Designated Officer that the absence is continuing and, if possible, give a likely date of return.
  • If the absence continues beyond 7 calendar days (including weekends and holidays) the member of staff must obtain a fit note from their GP. Staff must keep their Head of School/Unit/Designated Officer informed of their progress with an indication, if possible, of a return to work date.
  • During any period of absence, staff should contact their Head of School/Unit/Designated Officer regularly to advise them of their progress.

Self certificate

Self certificate forms can be obtained from the Head of School/Unit/Designated Officer or Human Resources.

  • A self certificate must be completed for any absence of 7 calendar days or less.

Fit note

If absence continues beyond 7 calendar days the member of staff must obtain a Fit Note from their GP.

  • Fit Notes should be sent via the Head of School/Unit/Designated Officer to Human Resources. In circumstances where the member of staff wishes the reason for his/her absence to remain confidential, fit notes can be sent directly to Human Resources. However, the member of staff should make it clear whether or not they have informed their School/Unit of the period they are likely to be absent.
  • Fit Notes must be submitted at regular intervals to fully cover absence and no later than 3 days after the expiry of the previous fit notes.
  • Staff are responsible for ensuring Fit Notes are submitted on time and cover all periods of sickness in excess of 7 calendar days.
  • Any gaps in Fit Notes will result in sickness payments being stopped or suspended and may result in disciplinary action being taken.

Short-term absence/Self-certified absence

Absences covered by a self-certificate are considered short term. While no member of staff should feel under pressure to return to work whilst unfit the University would not expect absence falling into this category to exceed either 8 working days, or more than 4 occasions, in any preceding 12 month period.

Human Resources will inform Heads of School/Unit of members of staff exceeding this threshold. It will be the line manager’s responsibility to discuss the level of absence with the individual and to decide on what action to take. The options available to them are:

  • Plan regular meetings with the individual to monitor their attendance
  • Formally/informally refer the individual to the Occupational Health Service via Human Resources

Where a health issue is identified as a reason for absence, management will make a formal Short term absence referral (Word, 101 KB)to the Occupational Health Service via Human Resources for a health assessment and report.

It is accepted that frequent absences may be symptomatic of larger issues (eg personal problems, job dissatisfaction, etc) and every effort will be made to allow free discussion of all salient factors. The University will endeavour to be sympathetic to underlying problems and may be able to help deal with the problem by identifying independent professional help to guide the staff member through difficult times.

In situations where attendance does not improve following a period of formal meetings (eg continues to exceed the levels stipulated in this policy) this may result in more formal action being taken (eg disciplinary).

Long-term absence

Absences of more than 15 working days, covered by a fit note, are considered long-term. During an extended period of absence due to ill health, it may be necessary for Human Resources to contact an employee to arrange a meeting to discuss implications for employment arising from the period of absence. This is also an opportunity for the employee to raise any queries they may have.

Where there is no reasonable prospect of the employee returning to normal duties in the foreseeable future, Human Resources will liaise with the Occupational Health Service to discuss the following options with the individual:

  • Reasonable Adjustments
    In line with the Disability Discrimination Act (1995) which defines a disabled person as: “A person with a physical or mental impairment which has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on her/his ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities”, the University will, where possible, seek to make reasonable adjustments to the post to allow the individual to continue at work. Reasonable adjustments will be made to the individual's current post only. In the event that this is not possible, the University will consider the option of redeployment.
  • Dismissal by Reason of Medical Incapacity
    Where it is unlikely that an individual will be able to return to work in the near future and Ill Health Retirement is not an option, the University may terminate the contract by reason of medical incapacity. This will not happen without full discussion with the employee and appropriate medical information sought via the Occupational Health Service. It is hoped that where such action has to be taken, it will be a mutual termination on the grounds of capability. No contract will be terminated without a capability hearing being held at which the employee will be given the opportunity to submit evidence/put forward their case. Further information is available from Human Resources.
  • Ill Health Retirement
    In the case of serious illness which, in the opinion of a doctor, makes continued working impossible due to a permanent incapacity, the employee can apply for early retirement on the grounds of ill-health. (S)he must apply in writing through the Director of Human Resources to whichever pension scheme (s)he belongs. The appropriate Pension Trustees/Medical Adviser will require medical evidence to support the claim. Details of this procedure can be obtained from the Salaries and Pensions Office. No action will be taken without the consent of the employee.

The Role of Human Resources

As a responsible employer, the University has a duty to ensure that the interests of both individuals and the organisation are safeguarded. To this end the University provides such pay at a level above the statutory minimum for staff absent through illness. An important part of meeting its obligations is the maintenance of a monitoring system for all sickness absence to ensure the long-term well-being of the organisation and its staff.

Human Resources monitors all absence within the University and is responsible for supplying information and advice to managers on how to manage poor attendance.

Human Resources supplies the following management reports to Heads of Schools/Units:

  • Self-certified absences which exceed 8 working days, or which have occurred on more than 4 occasions, in the preceding 12 month period. The report will include names of individuals, days and reasons for absence.
  • Quarterly absence reports detailing absences within their School/Unit and the cost incurred to the School/Unit.

The purpose of these reports are to highlight possible areas of concern with regard to health and safety issues, absence rates etc. Human Resources asks Heads of Schools/Units to pay specific attention to:

  • Frequency of absence of individuals and groups of staff.
  • Duration of absences eg episodes of absence or repeated 1/2 day absence.
  • Patterns of absence eg Monday mornings, Friday afternoons.

The Role of Management, Line Managers and Supervisors

Where the Head of School/Unit finds cause for concern in the staff member’s absence record, the supervisor, line manager or designated deputy should meet with the individual concerned. The individual will be informed of the required attendance improvement and possible actions should improvement not be satisfactory. Managers should remember that any information regarding the reason for absence is confidential and should be treated as such.

A formal record of the interview and its outcome will be made, and copies in writing will be held by the staff member, the Head of School/Unit and Human Resources.

Where the procedure has been initiated, a review of attendance will take place, normally after a period of 3 months, although the University reserves the right to determine any other period.

As a Manager it is your responsibility to:

  • Ensure that all colleagues are aware of the procedure for reporting absence within your School/Unit.
  • Carry out informal meetings promptly (ie within 2 days of return where possible) with all individuals following any period of absence (see Return to Work Interviews)
  • Monitor levels/frequency of absence by interviewing staff members with high levels of absence and take appropriate action. This may result in the case being referred, with the individual’s permission, to the Occupational Health Service for a health assessment and report, or more formalised monitoring by management or disciplinary action.
  • Liaise with Human Resources and the Occupational Health Service in situations where individuals are returning to work after a lengthy period of absence and may need extra support/assistance.
  • Maintain contact with employees on long-term absence.
  • Contact employees who have not reported their absence within 1 hour of their normal start time on the first day of absence.

The Role and Responsibilities of the Individual

In order to comply with the procedures laid out in this policy members of staff must:

  • Report their absence to their Head of School/Unit/Designated Officer within 1 hour of their normal start time on the first day of absence.
  • Give the reason for their absence.
  • Keep their Head of School/Unit/Designated Officer informed if their absence is continuing beyond 3 calendar days and where possible give a likely date of return.
  • Provide fit notes to cover absence over 7 calendar days.
  • In the case of long-term absence, ensure that they keep in regular contact with their Head of School/Unit/Designated Officer to up-date them on when they expect to be fit to return to work.
  • Complete Part B of the self certificate form on their return to work and submit it to Human Resources via their Head of School/Unit/Designated Officer.

The Role of the Occupational Health Service

When a member of staff is referred to the Occupational Health Service an appointment is offered to that individual to meet with either the Occupational Health Adviser or the Occupational Health Physician.

At this appointment, the Occupational Health staff will undertake an assessment which will take into account the individual’s health/illness and the functional requirements of their work. Written consent may be sought from the individual to request medical reports from their General Practitioner or Hospital Specialist to assist the Occupational Health staff in the assessment.

All occupational health records, including medical reports, are stored confidentially within the Occupational Health Service and any medical information will not be given to management/Human Resources unless the member of staff gives consent.

After assessment, advice will then be given to management/Human Resources with regard to any likely return to work date. Advice will also be given with regard to any modifications that could be made to assist an individual to return, for example a phased return on reduced hours or a period of modified duties.

In circumstances when an individual’s illness permanently affects their capability to work in their post the Occupational Health staff provides reports, if requested, for staff that may wish to apply for an early retiral on the grounds of ill health.

  • Self Referrals

Individuals who have a health problem, which affects or is affected by work, are encouraged to approach the Occupational Health Service and nothing in this Policy shall prevent such approaches being made. Such contact will be dealt with in the strictest confidence.

  • Management Referrals

In circumstances where employees have been consulted and referred as a result of their high level of self-certified absence the Occupational Health Adviser/Physician will provide a report to management indicating:

  1. Whether there is an underlying reason for the regular absence.
  2. Whether any adjustments could be made to the individual’s workplace or equipment to assist them at work.
  3. Whether, if practicable, the staff member should be considered for re-deployment in another post.

Where employees have been referred as a result of long-term absence the Occupational Health Adviser/Physician will provide a report to management indicating:

  1. The likely date of return to work or an indication of the likely period of absence before such an assessment can be made.
  2. Any reasonable adjustment that may be possible to assist the staff member with a disability.
  3. Whether a period of rehabilitation will be necessary before returning to full duties and how this might be possible.
  4. Whether, if practicable, the staff member should be considered for re-deployment in another post.

In all of these circumstances, the Occupational Health Adviser/Physician will ensure that at least 2 weeks notice is given to the School/Unit where an employee is returning to work after a lengthy period of absence in order that the feasibility of implementing any changes can be assessed and the necessary arrangements can be made.

  • Other Services Provided

The Occupational Health Service also take an active part in employee training and development. Courses in First Aid at Work, Safe Manual Handling, Dealing with Violence and Aggression, Aspects of Male Health, Stress Recognition and Relaxation are available from the Unit.

Only some of the services available are listed above. However, you should note that the Occupational Health Service is not a substitute for the services of a general practitioner and cannot offer primary care with regard to prescription or treatments.

Other Relevant Questions

Can I return to work before the date indicated on my last fit note?

If you decide to return to work before your fit note expires we would expect it to be with the consent of your GP. In some circumstances you may be asked to attend the Occupational Health Service as a precautionary measure in order to ensure that you are fit to undertake the duties of your post.

Can I take time off work to attend a doctor or dentist appointment?

Time off to attend medical appointments is not recorded as sickness absence. However, whenever possible, these appointments should be made outwith your working hours or at the start or end of the day. If you work part-time hours it is expected that any such appointments would not take place during working hours.

Do I have to attend the Occupational Health Service if my manager refers me?

While it is not compulsory for you to attend the Occupational Health Service, we would advise you to do so in order that an assessment of your health and work place can be undertaken. If you would prefer, it is acceptable for you to visit your own GP and the University will seek to obtain a written report under the Access to Medical Reports Act 1988.

What is considered to be a day’s sickness?

If a member of staff has been at work for less than 75% of their normal working day it will count as 1 day’s absence.

If I am ill during my annual leave what should I do?

If you become ill during the course of your annual leave, you would be regarded as being on sick leave from the date you advise us and as specified on a fit note. In such circumstances, only days covered by a fit note can be reclaimed as annual leave (excluding public holidays).

If I am on long-term absence what will happen to my accrued annual leave?

During paid sickness absence you will continue to accrue annual leave in line with the conditions of your contract. Once you have exhausted your Occupational Sick Pay, you will accrue annual leave in line with the Working Time Directive ie 5.6 weeks per annum.

Please note: Holidays not taken by 31 December following the end of any leave year shall lapse.

Can I phone in sick in order to look after a family member who is unwell?

You should only phone in sick if you are ill and unable to undertake your duties. The University has other policies in place to cover these circumstances eg Emergency Time off for Dependants.

Points of note

  • The University would normally expect you to live within a 25 mile radius of St Andrews (unless exception has been made) during any lengthy period of absence. This is to ensure you are able to attend any meetings which are called to discuss your absence and to allow you to attend the Occupational Health Service.
  • If you are absent from the University due to ill-health, it would not be expected that you undertake any form of employment during your normal working hours, nor would it be expected that you undertake any comparable employment throughout the period of your absence. In situations where you are found to be doing either, disciplinary action may be invoked.
  • High levels of absence during your first year of employment may result in the termination of your contract through the standard disciplinary procedures.
  • If you have been off work as a result of a long-term absence it may be possible to have a phased return to work eg you may be able to work part-time and build up your hours of work over a 4 to 6 week period. In these circumstances a variety of options can be considered including the use of any accrued annual leave to make up the difference in your hours or you can opt to be paid only for the hours you work.
  • If you have been off work as a result of a long-term absence and have exhausted your Occupational and Statutory Sick Pay, discussions regarding your continued employment will take place between Human Resources and the Occupational Health Service.
  • If you do not make contact with your Head of School/Unit/Designated Officer in line with the procedure and they are unable to make contact with you during the first 7 days of your absence this will be classed as unauthorised absence. In these circumstances, disciplinary action will normally be taken. The University reserves the right to assume that you have resigned from your post if unauthorised absence continues for a period of more than 10 working days. This will be confirmed in writing by Human Resources.
  • We calculate the period of absence covered by a fit note from the date it was issued by your GP.
  • For the purposes of Statutory Sick Pay, the Salaries Office calculates absence differently eg if you were sick on a Friday and Monday this would equate to 4 days for Statutory Sick Pay purposes but for recording purposes within Human Resources we would count this as 2 days.

Absence Management Flow Chart

Absence management flowchart

Absence reporting procedure

Absence reporting procedure flowchart

Role of the Occupational Health Service in Long Term Absence

Role of the Occupational health service in long term absence flowchart

Return to work interviews

Guidance for Line Managers/Supervisors

Return to work interviews provide managers with the opportunity to speak to employees who have been absent through ill-health and to complete the self-certificate form.

Interviews must be held in private and within a couple of days of the individual’s return to work. You should prepare in advance so that you cover all necessary topics for discussion. In cases of short-term absence (less than 7 days), the interview can be less formal with the manager just checking to see that the individual is fully recovered and that there are no problems. However, if uncertified absence levels become a regular occurrence the meetings should become formal with the individual being made aware that their attendance will be monitored more closely. You should investigate the following areas:

  • Reasons for absence (eg are there any work issues that have led to the frequent absence). In circumstances where an individual does not want to discuss his/her reason for absence the Occupational Health Service can be contacted to assist.
  • Patterns of absence (eg regular absences on the same days of the week/month).
  • How to improve the individual’s attendance.
  • The consequences for the individual if absence levels do not improve.
  • Confirm that sickness absence is not appropriate unless you are too ill to come to work. Absence for domestic reasons needs to be discussed further and other options considered.
  • Follow up meetings (if appropriate).

For longer-term absences the return to work interview provides the manager with an opportunity to welcome the individual back to work and to update them on things that have happened while they have been absent. It is likely, in these circumstances, that the individual will have been referred to the Occupational Health Service and the manager will have been kept informed of the individual’s recovery. Issues to be discussed at the interview should cover the following areas:

  • The individual’s fitness for work (in most circumstances that this will have been confirmed by the Occupational Health Service prior to their return to work).
  • Any changes that have occurred in the School/Unit and any training that might be necessary.
  • How the work has been covered in their absence.
  • Agree a work schedule that will ease them back into the work environment and set a date for a review meeting.

Following any interview, always confirm the issues discussed at the meeting in writing and give a copy to the individual concerned.

If you need any advice, please do not hesitate to contact Human Resources for assistance.


Revised May 2016 (Fit Note)