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Managing long term absence guide

Reviewed 13 March 2021

The primary aim in cases of long-term absence is to facilitate a return to work at the earliest possible point. The secondary aim is to then support any return to work effectively to minimise the risk of any further absences. This guidance note provides additional guidance to support managers in the management of cases of long-term or ongoing absence.

The guidance focusses on 4 key areas:

  • Maintaining Contact
  • Obtaining Medical Advice
  • Considering Supports/Adjustments
  • Considering Progression to a Capability Hearing

Managing long term absence

Maintaining Contact

Employees should remain contactable whilst absent from work due to ill-health and managers in turn are responsible for ensuring that regular contact is maintained.

Maintaining contact extends beyond simply ensuring that employees submit medical certificates on time. It should serve to update both managers and employees on progress, both with regard to the employee’s absence but also on developments within the workplace. It is also through this contact that discussions can take place to increase understanding around the current position and it is not uncommon for this to lead to the creation of options (e.g. workplace adjustments) which support an employee to return to work earlier than they may have done previously.

In some cases, meeting within the workplace may not be appropriate however where possible, meeting within the workplace can help an absent employee maintain their connection with their work. Employees may be supported by a Trade Union Representative or work colleague at any absence meetings.

Early Stages

Important considerations at an early stage include identifying the cause of absence and taking appropriate action if possible. This may involve seeking medical advice.

It is also important to establish early on what the shared expectations are around contact. Informal contact should take place on a monthly basis as a minimum. This may be by telephone, but would ideally be face-to-face. This allows for quick, simple and effective communication to ensure that both parties are up-to-date, be that in relation to medical/absence progress or workplace developments.

Later Stages

In longer-term absence cases, particularly where there is a degree of uncertainty around progress or prognosis, more structured Absence Support Meetings should take place. The timing and need for these meetings should be assessed on a case-by-case basis, as every absence is different. As a guide, meetings may take place as per below:

  • After a set period of time (e.g. 1 month), subject to the circumstances of the absence
  • After receiving an Occupational Health report (or other medical advice) which needs to be discussed
  • After being informed by an employee of a notable change in their medical circumstances
  • After any event which may impact on the employee’s ability to return to work

Absence Support Meetings should cover (as a guide):

  • An update on current health & the level of progress made since the start of the absence (if any)
  • Discussion on the likely duration of the absence
  • Discussion on whether or not a referral to Occupational Health is appropriate (e.g. in order to obtain further information on the above), or discussion of any medical advice already received
  • Exploration of any supports or adjustments which may help a return to work
  • Sharing of relevant workplace developments/updates
  • An opportunity for the employee to raise any difficulties or concerns
  • Discussing the next steps in the process (e.g. date of next meeting)

In more advanced cases, it may be appropriate to:

  • Explain the possible progression to a capability hearing and its potential outcomes
  • Discuss the use of any annual leave accrued
  • Discuss whether redeployment is appropriate, based upon medical advice
  • Seek advice from Pay and Pensions in relation to possible Ill Health Retirement

Both Human Resources and Occupational Health advice should be sought as part of the management of an advanced long-term absence and Human Resource can support with the provision of appropriate template letters at each stage. Employees can be invited using the Template Letter – Invite to Long-Term Absence Support Meeting. Absence Support Meetings should be recorded on the Form – Long Term Absence Support Meeting Record, which can also be used to guide the discussion. Obtaining Medical Advice Managers should seek Occupational Health advice as necessary, following app

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