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2010 Health Care Service Group Conference
10 December 2009
Carried as Amended

Despite the excellent UNISON guidance booklet, ‘Making Us Better’, and Annex Z of the Agenda for Change Terms and Conditions handbook, many NHS employers have very punitive policies and procedures on managing sickness absence. These effectively mean that members can be disciplined for being off sick, in that they receive ‘warnings’ that if their attendance does not improve they may be sacked. Members with long term health conditions or disabilities may be particularly affected, if they have to take time off related to their ill health or disability, especially if there is argument about whether the employer has done enough to make ‘reasonable adjustments.’

These policies and procedures have trigger points and targets which mean members are required to have ‘review’ meetings with managers when they have had a number of days or periods of sickness. Although some managers do use these meetings to offer genuine help, most members find such meetings intimidating and unhelpful. It is particularly galling for members who have tried to return to work but have then had to take further days off sick to find that these are treated as separate episodes and lead them to reach trigger points. As such, the procedures appear to encourage staff to take a longer period off sick than to try to return to work earlier. We note the reference to ‘presenteeism’ (staff attending work whilst unfit or unwell) in the interim NHS Health & Wellbeing report (Boorman Review.)

At branch level, working with our colleagues in other unions, we will, of course, try to improve our local managing attendance / sickness procedures and get the most punitive aspects removed. It would be helpful if formal guidance supported this by:

a.Discouraging employers from setting rigid trigger points and targets and from using disciplinary procedure terminology in managing attendance / sickness procedures.

b.Placing more emphasis, for example in line with the Health & Safety Executive’s Management Standards for Tackling Stress at Work, on the employer’s responsibility to provide a healthy and safe workplace for all staff to prevent or reduce any ill health which is work-related.

c.Taking up the issue raised in Motion 35 to the 2007 Health Care Service Group Conference. This motion called on the Service Group Executive to campaign for the introduction of positive ‘disability leave’ policies to prevent disabled members from being discriminated against by sickness absence procedures, if they take sick leave related to their disability.

We therefore resolve to call on the Service Group Executive to:

1. raise this issue through the Staff Council with a view to amending the Healthy Workplaces Handbook (Blue Book) to ensure interpretation of Annex Z of the Agenda for Change Terms and Conditions handbook in line with the bullet points above.

2. ask the Department of Health/NHS Employers to carry out research into the issue of “presenteeism.

3. to explore ‘disability leave’ schemes with a view to producing a model template for branches to use in negotiations with their employers.