Sickness Absence: Guidance for Managers

Form: Sickness Notification Form

1. Introduction

The University of Bristol is a caring employer and provides considerable support to all staff in times of sickness and personal difficulties.  The aim of this document is to provide managers with guidelines on how to deal with individual employees, from all categories of staff, who are absent due to sickness.

It is important that a consistent approach is adopted and a balance struck between providing support to the employee, recognising individual circumstances whilst ultimately securing their return to work and improving attendance generally.

It is imperative that confidentiality with regard to an individual’s health and personal circumstances is maintained at all times.

Awareness of health and safety issues must be borne in mind and a risk assessment must be carried out in the light of any injury at work.

Whilst recognising the wish to be reasonable and sensitive in cases of sickness absence, the University is very conscious of the fact that poor attendance at work can contribute to reduced efficiency and can disrupt the quality of service and team spirit. 

2. Sickness Reporting Procedure

a) Individual Departments should establish an agreed procedure for reporting absence and should specify an individual to contact and also identify an alternative.  It is essential that all staff are made aware of the operation of this procedure.  Staff who are taken ill at work should be sent or taken home and this day will not count against their sickness entitlement.

On the first day of absence, staff (or someone on their behalf) are required to notify the identified individual as early as possible (normally by 10.00 a.m.).  Specific arrangements may need to be made for an employee who may live alone and/or does not have access to a telephone.

b) Individuals who report their absence must provide:-

    i) information regarding the reason for their absence, “sick” or “unwell” is not an acceptable explanation for absence from work e.g. back pain, flu symptoms etc;
    ii) whether or not they intend to visit a doctor;
    iii) an expected date of return or information on when they will be able to call again with further information.

c) On return to work all staff must complete a self-certification form, irrespective of the number of days taken, and this form should be returned to the Salaries Section in the Finance Office.

d) A nominated member of the Department will be responsible for keeping full sickness records and issuing a weekly return to the Salaries Office.

e) Employees who are absent for 8 days (including Saturdays and Sundays) or more must provide a doctor’s certificate (a “fit note” – see (3) below).

Please note that the University has a right to request a private Medical Certificate (if there are particular concerns regarding an individual’s absence), but this should be discussed with your Human Resources Manager and not enforced as a matter of routine.

Any referral to an individual’s G.P. or to Occupational Health must be achieved via Human Resources.

Staff who are employed as food handlers and have been absent from work with vomiting and/or diarrhoea, which has persisted for more than twenty-four hours MUST NOT return to work until they have been formally cleared to do so by their G.P.  Further details are given in the University’s Food Safety Policy and Codes of Practice’ folder.

3. Fit Notes

Fit notes (formerly known as sick notes) are the forms that are issued by G.P.s to people as evidence for their employer that the employee is ill or injured and unable to attend work as normal.  

Under the fit note system, a G.P may advise that the employee is either:

Unfit for work 

This confirms that the employee is too ill to work at all for the stated period of time.


May be fit for work taking account of the following advice

This confirms that the employee’s health condition may allow them to work with suitable support if available.  The G.P will then indicate on the form which kind of support the employee may benefit from (e.g. amended duties, workplace adaptations, a phased return to work or altered hours), and the period of time for which this will be the case.  If an employer is unable to facilitate a change or adjustment, the fit note will count as evidence that the employee has a health condition preventing them from carrying out their role and should therefore remain on sick leave for the stated period of time.

On receipt of a fit note indicating that an employee may be fit for work taking into account certain support, managers should contact their Faculty HR Manager for advice.  A decision will then be made jointly by the manager and HR Manager, following discussion with the employee as appropriate, regarding whether or not it is possible to accommodate the recommended advice.  Where the HR Manager judges that it is appropriate, further advice may also be sought from the Occupational Health Service before a decision is reached.  Until a decision has been reached, the employee should remain on sick leave. 

The University is keen to support staff in a return to work wherever possible and will consider all recommendations carefully before a decision is reached, taking full account of any considerations under the Equality Act (2010) where appropriate.

4. Recording and Monitoring

To ensure that this guidance for managing absence is applied effectively, it is essential that sound monitoring procedures exist in all Departments. Records for all employees should be kept and include the number of days absent, the reason for the absence, together with a cumulative total over a rolling 12 month period.

Individual managers must determine in terms of duration and incidence, when an employee’s absence/s needs to be investigated further.  Whilst it is important to adopt a consistent approach, each case must be considered individually, depending on the circumstances, before any action is taken.

As a rule of thumb 10 uncertificated days absence in the last 12 months or more than one month’s certificated absence may need to be investigated, in particular to determine whether this may be due to a disability.  Advice can be obtained from your HR Manager regarding appropriate action in individual cases or where there are general concerns regarding absence.

5. Sickness Pay

All staff are entitled to paid leave of absence when they are unable to attend work due to illness.  For details of the sick pay entitlements, please see the appropriate terms and conditions.

6. The Return Interview

Following each absence from work due to sickness, the employee should be seen by his/her supervisor/manager.  This is an essential part of absence management and can be as informal or as formal as the circumstances dictate.  It is important that proper preparation is made and that the interview is conducted fairly and consistently and always includes:-

Welcome Back - It is always appropriate to welcome an employee back to work following any period of absence.  This will give the supervisor/manager a more formal opportunity to tell individuals that they were missed and that the University values their work and their contribution to the Department.

Enquire About Health - the line manager or supervisor has a duty of care to ensure that employees are fit to work and should gently explore the reason for absence and whether the absence is work related.  (It should be recognised that sickness absence can sometimes be a disguise for other things i.e. unhappy in job, harassment, personal difficulties etc.).  Identify what steps the individual has taken to investigate the cause and if necessary, what preventative measures he/she is taking to ensure that it does not re-occur.

It is particularly important to show care and concern during this exploratory stage of the interview and assurance should be provided as necessary. 

Consequences and Observations - If there are concerns regarding an individual’s attendance record it may be appropriate to bring to the individual’s attention the facts regarding his/her attendance in the last 6 or 12 months, including any apparent patterns of absence.

If there is sufficient cause for concern it may be necessary to explore the possibility of obtaining medical evidence, via the Faculty/Divisions Human Resources team, in order to establish an individual’s well being and capability.  If following the necessary investigation, abuse of the sickness scheme is suspected, the employee must be advised that further absence may lead to action being taken under the Conduct Procedure and/or suspension of the sick pay entitlements.

The appropriate supervisor should use this opportunity to explore ways in which they can help the employee to improve their attendance.

7. Long Term Sickness

Regular contact should be maintained with an employee during prolonged periods of sickness absence.

Action taken will vary depending on the reason for the absence, but the manager, together with the HR Manager, will normally visit the employee following 6 weeks of absence or as appropriate.  It is necessary to establish whether the employee needs any assistance and to keep him/her feeling part of the team.

It may be necessary to refer the individual to the University’s Occupational Health Service and/or request a written report from the individual’s General Practitioner, in order to obtain further information regarding the impact on their state of health and prospects for return to work.  This will be arranged via the Faculty/Divisions Human Resources team.  Once this report has been received a decision will need to be made regarding possible future courses of action.  Please refer to the Ill Health Procedure (Ordinance 31) and supporting guidance for further information and advice regarding this.

8. Staff Counselling Service

The University of Bristol provides a Counselling Service available to all staff, and managers should make their own staff aware of this at any stage of sickness where they think it is appropriate.  Advice to Managers regarding this can be obtained from the Counselling Service.

Staff can make contract with the Staff Counselling Service on (0117) 9300261 or by emailing


Human Resources, April 2010