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2011 National Women's Conference
21 October 2010
Carried as Amended

The majority of employees in the public sector are women and many of them will experience at some time in their working lives health related absences that result in intrusive and harsh management responses as a consequence of rigid sickness absence policies – often based on the ‘Bradford Factor’ – a human resources tool widely used by public sector employers to measure and identify areas of absenteeism. The Bradford Factor theory is that short, frequent and unplanned absences are more disruptive than longer absences. Sickness absence policies based on the Bradford Factor could potentially put women at an unfair disadvantage given that many women specific illnesses occur for sometimes very short periods of time but can occur often, such as morning sickness, menopausal related illnesses, menstrual health related illness and others.

Specific women’s health issues cannot be fairly acknowledged by systems such as the Bradford Factor because it is based on using calculations that allocate ‘points’, based on the number of episodes of sickness an employee has had and the duration of each episode of illness. If an employee’s points exceeds a certain amount, in the worst case scenario, this could trigger a final written warning and in some cases – dismissal. For employees with a total of ten days absence over one year, the Bradford Factor can vary enormously, depending on the number of episodes of absence involved.

Women have long campaigned personally and publicly for the recognition of gender specific ailments. For a widely used sickness scheme, such as the Bradford Factor, to be so blind not only reinforces the ignorance of women specific health issues but also endorses and legitimises, through a process, health discrimination based on sex.

In some work places gender specific illnesses/conditions are dealt with outside of the normal absence/sickness policy. This type of forward thinking for conditions such as IVF, hysterectomies, and other gynaecological problems, means that women are not penalised for experiencing gender specific health problems. These types of conditions mainly affect women and are in the main one off illnesses, from which most women recover completely, it is therefore economical, time saving and avoids further distress to the women involved if they are dealt with separately from general sickness/absence policies.

Due to the severe impact of the government’s cuts to the public sector over the next four to five years, Conference believes that we will witness a rise in the number of cases of women being targeted as a consequence of ruthless employers using sickness and capability procedures to reduce staff numbers.

Therefore conference asks the National Women’s Committee to:

1)Collate copies of workplace policies and agreements on gender specific health illnesses/conditions.

2)Carry out independent research to determine whether the Bradford Factor is discriminatory and whether its measures and mathematical formula disproportionately affect more women than men in relation to employer’s punitive disciplinary sanctions.

3)Provide guidance for branches to raise awareness and encourage branches to request that their employers carry out Gender Equality Impact Assessment on their sickness and capability policies and procedures.

4)Report back to Women’s Conference in 2012.