Managing absence from work due to ill-health


The purpose of this policy is to:

  • ensure that employees who are absent from work due to ill-health or injury receive fair and sympathetic treatment and are provided with support towards a full recovery.
  • provide consistent and effective procedures for monitoring absence due to ill-health or injury, and for managing the consequences of absence for the functioning of the University.

It applies to all employees of the University.


Employees will be treated with consideration and respect during a period of ill-health or injury. The University will seek to support their recovery and to safeguard their employment. Managers are required to apply these policies and procedures in a consistent and equitable manner and to exercise the duty of care to employees at all times.

Employees are responsible for their own general health and for seeking to minimise unnecessary absence from work due to ill-health. They should take account of the need to avoid prolonging or aggravating any episode by remaining at work or returning to work too soon. They should not put colleagues' health in danger by their own actions.

The University supports employees with genuine health problems through the Occupational Sick Pay scheme, and the provision of an Occupational Health and counselling service, but will apply appropriate sanctions to those who abuse this support, in accordance with the relevant procedures. In particular, the employee's eligibility for occupational sick pay may be withdrawn if they fail to conform to the rules of the scheme relating to notification, provision of certification, and assessment by the University's Occupational Health Advisor.

The statutory framework of employment rights for employees with a disability (as defined by the Disability Discrimination Act) will affect the way in which some episodes of sickness or injury should be handled, and managers are encouraged to seek the advice of their link People manager in cases where the employee concerned has a statutory defined disability.

Similarly, periods of absence related to pregnancy and childbirth are regulated by the statutory provisions related to maternity leave and pay. Managers should seek the advice of their link People Manager in cases where sickness absence occurs during pregnancy.

Employees have the right to be accompanied by a friend or trade union representative in any meeting convened under these regulations.

Sick pay and sick leave entitlements

Sickness is allocated in days. This is on a pro-rata basis for part-time staff or staff on compressed hours. An employee absent from work due to illness or injury is entitled to receive allowances on the following basis:

  • The Chief People Officer may extend these periods where there is a strong probability of a return to work within a short period of the end of the entitlement, or in other exceptional circumstances. Each case will be considered on its merits.
  • In order for the accurate calculation of entitlement to sick pay, Line managers must ensure that absences from work due to illness/injury are properly recorded on People XD by the authorised person within the Faculty/Directorate and that the relevant documentation is forwarded to the People Directorate in a timely way.
  • The People Directorate will notify employees and managers at least one month before the end of their paid period of allowance for sick leave.
  • Where an employee falls ill or is injured during a period of annual leave, he/she shall be regarded as being on sick leave and not on annual leave. A certificate from a doctor or a hospital would be required to validate such a period of sick leave.
  • Staff who are ill or injured may be entitled to statutory benefits. Information on these benefits can be obtained from the Department for Work and Pensions.
  • The University reserves the right not to pay sick pay in cases where the employee was reckless and did not follow medical advice.

Variable Hours Contracts, Associate Lecturers and Casual Staff

Employees with the above types of contract will receive sick pay in line with their contract of employment. Different contract types have entitlement to different types of sick leave and the contract should be referred to in order to know what the entitlement will be.

Where an individual has been offered and accepted any shifts and then becomes sick, if they are entitled to sick pay under their contract, then they will receive appropriate sick pay for the periods of work that have already been offered and accepted before the sickness commenced but that they can no longer fulfil due to needing to take sick leave.

Employees with these types of contract must follow the guidelines in this document including the sections headed 'Procedure for notifying absences due to ill-health/injury' which details about notifying the line manager that sick leave is being taken and the requirement to provide a Fit Note for any periods of sickness longer than 7 calendar days i.e. 8 days or longer.

Once a line manager and/or Faculty/Directorate Administrator has been informed of the sick leave they are required to inform the People Directorate Operations team of the hours that had been offered and accepted but are now being taken as sick leave so that the People Directorate can liaise with Payroll to ensure appropriate sick pay is paid should the employee meet the criteria for payment.


The University wishes to support staff who are undergoing IVF or similar treatment. Time off to attend doctor or hospital appointments will be provided in the same way as it would for any other doctor or hospital appointment.

Entitlement to Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) is for 28 weeks (after the first 3 waiting days)

Method of calculating sick pay entitlement

During first year of employment with the University 22 working days (approx 1 months) full pay and (after 4 months service), 44 working days (approx 2 months) half pay
During second year of employment with the University 66 working days (approx 3 months) full pay and 66 working days (approx 3 months) half pay
During third year of employment 88 working days (approx 4 months) full pay and 88 days (approx 4 months) half pay
After three years of employment 132 working days (approx 6 months) full pay and 132 working days (approx 6 months) half pay

Entitlement to Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) is for 28 weeks (after the first 3 waiting days)

  • The amount of sick pay entitlement is calculated by looking at the first day of sickness and counting back 12 months from this date.
  • The number of days absent due to sickness in the last 12 months is deducted from the entitlement, to give a period of full pay then a period of half pay depending on length of service. (As per the table above)
  • The People Directorate inform the individual employee concerned when the entitlement to full pay then half pay expires. Line managers are responsible for letting their member of staff know that this letter will be sent to the employee.  An automated email will be sent to the Line manager to make them aware that a letter will be being sent to the member of staff.

Procedure for notifying absences due to ill-health/injury

On the first day of any absence from work due to illness or injury, employees must contact their manager or nominated administrator by telephone within two hours of the normal time of starting work, or as soon as practicable thereafter. The employee should inform the person contacted about the cause of their absence and the likely period of absence. The manager or administrator must be kept informed if the proposed date of return to work changes. Local arrangements may be in place for earlier notification of absence by staff and staff should adhere to the local arrangement. Contact should be maintained by employees throughout their absence, as required.

For an absence of more than 3 days but less than 8 days (including Saturdays and Sundays), the employee is required to complete the self-certificate, which will be supplied by the Faculty/Directorate Administrator. This must be completed and returned as soon as possible, and normally no later than the 8th calendar day after the first day of absence.

After seven calendar days (including Saturdays and Sundays) of absence, the employee must obtain a Statement of Fitness for Work or “Fit Note” and forward it to the Line manager or Faculty/Directorate Administrator.

A failure to give appropriate notification, and/or to provide the required documentation may result in the loss of sick pay and may, in some instances, lead to disciplinary action.

Managerial responsibilities for managing ill-health absence

The primary relationship is between the employee and the Line manager and to that end the University would wish to see managers taking the lead in effectively responding to all degrees of sickness absence. Managers are responsible for managing and leading on ill health absence. Advice, guidance and support can be sought from the Occupational Health Department and the People Directorate in order to effectively manage and make decisions regarding each situation.

Managers should ensure that the employees for whom they are responsible, are fully aware of the requirements of the absence reporting procedure, and are aware that a failure to observe the procedure may result in a loss of sick pay, or in disciplinary action.

Managers should also ensure that the effects on workload and organisation arising from staff absences are managed effectively, without placing excessive workloads on other employees

When an employee reports an absence from work due to illness/injury, the manager must ensure that:

  • The start date of absence, reason and expected end date if applicable are notified to the People Directorate via the agreed procedure for the relevant faculty or directorate.
  • Employees who do not wish to disclose the reason for their absence should be instructed to contact the People Directorate Operations team by telephoning 01865 (48)5960 or by email to to provide that information to the People Directoate. The People Directorate will arrange for the reason for absence to be noted on the employee's file, clearly marked as not to be disclosed outside the People Directorate. The absence will be recorded on People XD but the reason will not.
  • Medical information is categorised as special category data under UK GDPR and should be treated as sensitive personal data. Copies of medical information including reasons for absence, self-certificates, fit notes etc should not be retained in the faculty/directorate. The People Directorate will provide data to support the absence management process (see Sickness statistics).
  • Employees who have been absent for three calendar days are asked to complete a self certificate and after seven calendar days of sickness the employee is reminded that they will need to provide a fit note.

When an employee returns to work, the manager should:

  • hold a ‘return to work’ meeting with the employee this is especially important in cases where the absence has been extended or has been part of a pattern of frequent short absences. Guidance on what should be discussed at a Return To Work Meeting can be found in Appendix 4. Managers are encouraged to hold such meetings after each occasion of absence.
  • Update the People Directorate Operations team via the agreed procedure when the employee returns to work.

The purpose of a ‘return to work’ meeting is to review the reasons for the absence and any medical or other issues involved that may continue to have an impact on attendance at work. The employee may be accompanied at such a meeting by a friend or trade union representative. The manager may subsequently seek further advice from the Occupational Health Advisor or may refer the case to the Occupational Health Advisor.

Line managers are responsible for monitoring employee absences, and in doing so they should take into account the following factors:

  • the frequency of absences
  • the duration of absences
  • patterns of absence e.g. on Fridays or Mondays, more frequently in summer, immediately following a public holiday or annual leave, during busy periods
  • whether or not the absence was covered by a doctor’s certificate
  • the effect of the absence on individual performance and/or colleagues

Where an employee has had 5 or more occurrences of sickness in a rolling 12 months it is advised that normally they should be referred to the Occupational Health Department to ensure that the University and the employee are doing all they can to manage this effectively.

Where an employee has had 10 days or more sickness absence in a rolling 12 month period they should be referred to the Occupational Health Department to ensure that the University and the employee are doing all they can to manage this effectively.

When a manager is concerned about the pattern and/or incidence of absences due to illness/injury, he/she should seek to identify the cause of the problem in discussion with the employee, the Link People Manager and the Occupational Health Advisor.

An employee may self refer to Occupational Health if they have any health concerns by contacting the Occupational Health Department Directly.

If the Line manager concludes that there is likely to be a medical reason for the absence(s), and that a formal medical opinion would be helpful in improving the employee’s attendance record, the employee should be referred to the Occupational Health Advisor for such an opinion.

Contacting staff on sick leave

It is responsible and wholly appropriate for line managers, or if appropriate Occupational Health to contact staff whilst they are on sick leave in order to maintain meaningful dialogue between parties and ensure that both parties are doing all they can to manage the situation effectively and to agree times when contact will be made during the sick leave period. As a guide, during the first 4 weeks of sickness the line manager and member of staff could speak on a weekly basis and after this as agreed between the line manager and the employee but it may be appropriate to speak once a month. Employees are required to ensure that they can reciprocate this contact and be available to do so.

Occupational Health referral

Referral to the Occupational Health Department is for help and support for all parties. Many illnesses and absences may be outside the expertise of a Line manager and a referral to the Occupational Health Department is in the earnest desire to support the member of staff and obtain professional advice. The Occupational Health Department provide a confidential service. 

Before a referral is made the Line manager should discuss the need for a referral with the individual concerned. Only in very unusual circumstances, where it is not possible to meet with an individual or speak to them on the phone will it be possible to make a referral without speaking to the individual concerned in advance and this can only be done if agreed with the Occupational Health Advisor and the People Directorate in advance. The employee has the right to be accompanied by a union representative during any meeting with the Occupational Health Advisor. The manager must inform the employee about the reasons for seeking a medical opinion.

The University’s Occupational Health Advisor

The role of the University’s Occupational Health Advisor is to assist managers and employees to reduce absences due to illness or injury by:

  • checking for any underlying causes of frequent short term absences
  • assisting managers and employees with the arrangements and timing of return to work following sickness absence
  • assessing the probability of an employee’s return to work and ability to continue in their current role
  • liaising with the University Medical Advisors and the employee’s GP and/or consultant regarding the employee’s condition and prognosis on behalf of managers. The Occupational Health Advisor will seek the employee’s permission for this in accordance with the Access to Medical Reports Act and will observe medical confidentiality rules in all cases.
  • assisting the Link People manager and Line manager to advise employees on re-deployment and re-training opportunities including advice on suitable equipment/aids and safeguards to facilitate a safe return to work, and on reasonable adjustments under the Equality Act.

When the Occupational Health Advisor meets the employee, he/she will discuss the record of ill-health absence and make an assessment of the employee’s fitness for work. The advisor will make recommendations designed to support the employee’s return to long term good health, and/or effective employment by the University, which may include:

  • Counselling or referral to an appropriate source/agency
  • Advice on treatment to help overcome problems
  • A review of workplace conditions/environment/working practices which may be contributing to the employee’s sickness absence. (The link People Manager and the Dean/Director concerned will normally be involved in such a review)

The Advisor’s assessment will normally fall into one of the following categories:

  • That the employee is fit to continue in his/her present role with recommendations for further treatment or other actions where appropriate
  • That the employee is fit to continue in his/her present role with some form of temporary or permanent support e.g. job re-organisation, part-time working, disability aids/enabling technology
  • That the employee is temporarily unfit but may be fit to resume after a period of recuperation/rehabilitation
  • That the employee is permanently unfit to undertake their present duties, but potentially capable to continue work in a different capacity via redeployment
  • That the employee is permanently unfit for further employment and, if appropriate, should be referred to the appropriate authority for a possible recommendation for ill-health retirement.

Managing short-term absence

Where the Occupational Health Advisor identifies a medical cause for ill-health absence, the Line manager should consider ways in which the job could be modified to facilitate longer-term employment. These may include lighter work, job modification, flexible working arrangements or the use of adaptive technologies. Redeployment to another post should also be considered.

Where the Occupational Health Advisor considers that there is no apparent underlying medical condition causing the pattern of ill-health absence, the Manager should advise the employee that the level of absence is unacceptable and indicate the improvement required and the timescale over which this is expected. The Manager will also indicate what further action may result if there is no improvement. A record of the discussion shall be kept and a date agreed on which to review the situation. The Line manager should explain that the Capability procedure is being or could be invoked.

If the pattern of ill-health absence fails to show the targeted improvement, the Line manager, in consultation with the People Directorate and the Occupational Health Advisor, will review the targets and the reasons why they have not been met. If the targets are considered to have been reasonable and there is evidence that the university’s provision for paid leave have been abused, they may ask the Dean/Director to initiate the disciplinary procedure. Alternatively they may conclude that the capability procedure shall be invoked.

Managing long-term absence (over 4 continuous weeks)

When an employee is absent on the grounds of ill-health/injury for more than four weeks, the Line manager should make a formal referral to occupational health. The Occupational Health Advisor will then contact the employee by the most appropriate means (e.g. by letter, telephone, or by home visit by prior agreement.) The Occupational Health Advisor will seek to establish the expected duration of the sickness and will ask the employee to update him/her regularly on progress and on future medical consultations which may provide further information about a possible date of return.

The Occupational Health Advisor will inform the People Directorate and the Line manager about:

If medical opinion suggests that there is a good prospect of recovery within a period of up to 12 months then the employee should be supported in that recovery and in a return to work. The options available should be discussed with the employee regularly and may include:

  • A phased return to work over a period of up to three months, at full salary
  • A return to work on a reduced hours basis with commensurate reduction in salary
  • Redeployment in accordance with the university’s policy for redeployment, including entry on the register and consideration by the Redeployment Panel, in cases where the medical condition would make it difficult/impossible to return to the original post. There will not normally be protection of salary.

Where there is no prospect of a return to effective work, having taken all the potential options into account, the Line manager and the People Directorate may recommend to the relevant Dean/Director and the Chief People Officer that the employee’s contract of employment should be terminated through the final formal stage of the capability procedure or an application for ill health early retirement supported by the Occupational Health Physician.

Sickness statistics

The People Directorate Operations team provide periodical statistical information to the Faculty /Directorate Management Team. The information includes all employees who have been absent due to sickness in the previous 12 months. The Faculty/Directorate management team will review this information and decide what action, if any, is required.

Where it is felt that further investigation is required the People Directorate can provide, on request, an individual sickness report for the employee showing all of their absences in the last 12 months with the reason for absence (unless the employee has notified the People Directorate that they wish the absence reason to be treated as confidential). 

Staff on variable hours contracts

See the Government advice on entitlements to Statutory Sick Pay. Staff who are eligible to Statutory Sick Pay may also be entitled to Occupational Sick Pay. The Payroll Team will be able to advise on this on a case by case basis.

Annual leave whilst on sick leave

Staff who have booked annual leave but are unable to take it because they are sick may reclaim it if they provide a doctor’s certificate. This should cover the time they would have been on annual leave. If staff are on holiday in a foreign country when they fall ill and wish to claim back the annual leave they must provide a doctor’s certificate or a receipt for medical attention sought in the foreign country.

Staff who reclaim such leave are entitled to use it at a later date. The right to use the reclaimed leave may require it to be carried forward into the following leave year if there is not the opportunity to take the leave in the current leave year. In such cases the usual cap of 5 days is removed so as to allow all reclaimed leave to be retained. The employee must use all such leave by the end of the subsequent leave year. N.B. Only statutory leave of 20 days’ maximum may be carried forward.

Line managers are expected to exercise common sense in the application of this provision, taking into account all of the circumstances at the time. For example, if a colleague is off sick for a week and had previously booked one of those days as annual leave, they should be asked to complete a self-certificate and take the leave at another time.

Accrual of Annual Leave Whilst on Sick Leave

Annual leave will accrue in the normal way whilst on sick leave. Annual Leave should be taken in line with the Annual Leave Policy, however where a member of staff is on long term sick it may not be possible to take annual leave during the current annual leave year. Where this is the case, staff may only carry forward statutory annual leave and bank holiday entitlements, which is a maximum of 28 days including bank holidays, which should be pro rated appropriately. Annual leave that is carried forward in this situation should normally be used within the annual leave year, however if the member of staff is off sick for a further year the annual leave that has not been taken from the previous annual leave year can only be carried forward with the agreement of the Dean/Director of the Faculty/Directorate.

It is possible for staff to use their annual leave when they are on half sick pay or no sick pay to enable them to receive full pay for a longer amount of time. Staff wishing to do this must apply in writing to the People Directorate making this request. Staff will not be made to take annual leave even if they are receiving no sick pay but some may feel that it is advantageous for them to use their annual leave. Only 5 days annual leave may be carried forward to the new leave year, inline with the Annual Leave Policy, however where a person has been on sick leave and not been able to take their annual leave during the current leave year then up to a maximum of 20 days, statutory annual leave, may be carried forward.

Return to work plan and phased return to work

It may be appropriate for staff who have been on sick leave to have a Return to Work Plan and/or a Phased Return To Work. Where this is appropriate it will involve the member of staff being referred to the Occupational Health Department who will provide support and guidance on a Return to Work Plan. The Line manager will then convene a meeting with the member of staff to discuss what the Return to Work Plan / Phased Return to Work Plan will look like in practice. Although the member of staff will have an input to the Return To Work Plan, where agreement cannot be reached the Line manager will be able to decide the final plan which should be agreed with the Occupational Health Department. Where the member of staff agrees to the Return to Work plan further agreement from Occupational Health will not be necessary.

Where a phased return to work plan is appropriate, the Occupational Health Department will advise on the length of the phased return which will generally be no longer than 12 weeks. Whilst on a phased return to work plan the member of staff will benefit from their normal pay even though they will be working reduced hours. If the member of staff wishes to have a longer phased return to work than 12 weeks then they will have their salary pro rated for the weeks in addition to the 12 weeks where they receive their normal pay.

Capability procedure

The University Capability procedure is designed to support staff and managers in dealing with problems regarding performance which may arise from time to time, and could be the result of ill health or a disability which prevent the employee from fulfilling the needs of the role or could arise due to the member of staff’s ability to perform the role. Where appropriate a Faculty/Directorate may decide to invoke this policy.

Disciplinary procedure

The University Disciplinary procedure may be invoked where the Faculty/Directorate have evidence that the Managing ill-health absence from work has not been followed.

Updated July 2019