Sickness Management

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2018 Community Service Group Conference
17 October 2017

Around 80% of organisations in Community & Voluntary Sector and Housing Associations reported that the most prevalent form of short term absence from the workplace were the common minor illnesses like colds, stomach bugs, migraines and influenza.

40% of organisations reported an increased level of stress related illness; this is thought to be a response to the economic downturn over the last few years. Raised workloads, fears about job losses, family, relationship and financial issues also play a part in illnesses of other forms by not taking care of oneself because of the old excuse of not having time…

Policies and procedures within the Community & Housing Associations are there for employees and management to follow and for the most part they are but there is a growing trend that the policies and management responsibilities are being ignored. Members of staff in organisations have reported having no contact with HR management during their time away from the workplace due to illness.

Throughout the Community there are organisations that rely on low sickness percentages to commit to providing the support of the vulnerable they are contracted to do, and a large number provide the quality of service user support you would expect but there are exceptions. Short term illness can be managed by the staff team covering the absence or using flexi staff and agency staff, full time staff will return from illness and the status quo is restored.

Long term illness however is different; the illness may be serious, and also involve an operation and recovery time, or could be a mental health problem, these require a sympathetic approach, but this approach is sometimes lost; I have experienced issues with members who have advised me that there has been none or very little contact with HR during their absence.

Ideally there would be regular contact with the employee about their position, clarity about their company sick pay and explain any changes within the workplace. Too often the UNISON workplace rep will be the point of contact for the members that are on sick leave whereas it should be the member providing the rep with the updates courtesy of the HR department.

In terms of long term sickness absence there are many parts to deal with and experience says that it is not always handled correctly which results in frustration by the employee as they are sometimes left with inaccurate or repeated requests for details from one source or another. Surely managers have a responsibility to their staff to keep in regular contact… but do they?

There always seems to be a breakdown along the line with the procedure, but as it is a stressful time with illnesses that are sometimes life changing, the one aspect important to the individual is the possibility of returning to work and the proper assistance when that point arrives should not be the responsibility of the UNISON workplace rep but the HR and management departments of the employer.

Far too often messages are received from members who have been on long term sick leave with regard to a HR Department request to attend an Occupational Health Assessment prior to a possible return to work, this really can cause added stress due to the fact that it could in some cases mean that the report might highlight certain restrictions or reasonable adjustments to the individual’s role, it could even mean medical dismissal if there is no available changes to that employee’s job function, this however is the last chance saloon scenario, responsible and empathetic employers will find scope for adjustment wherever possible prior to this point.

We call on the Community Service Group Executive to:

1. Initiate a survey of members and workplace reps in the Community & Voluntary Sector and Housing Associations to try and get some hard evidence of issues highlighted.

2. Assess the responses to build a picture of the extent of the issue.

3. Provide guidance for the workplace reps of UNISON in the Community & Voluntary Sector and Housing Associations to encourage a change in the attitude and deliverance by management so that the relationship of management and staff improves and as a result benefits the sickness statistics of the organisations.