If you’ve taken extensive (more than a week) or repeated time off work due to sickness, your employer may call you in for a formal work meeting. While it’s natural to feel nervous – and even distrustful of your manger’s motives – it will be in your best interests to attend.
Nicola Lee, Employment Relations Adviser at the Royal College of Nursing, reveals the meetings you can expect at each stage of absence, and how best to handle them.
Why you should go
Whether the idea of a meeting is a cause of worry and stress, or you just see it as an untimely inconvenience, it’s best to go along.
‘Employers have a responsibility to staff that are off sick not to make decisions that affect them without being in full possession of the facts of their situation. For this reason alone it is important to communicate with your employer and attend any meetings,’ says Nicola.
If getting to your place of work proves difficult, some employers allow for meetings to be held at your home. Should you decide not to go, the meeting may go ahead without you – and you will have lost the opportunity to give your input and ask questions.
Types of work meetings
So what kind of things will be discussed, and how many meetings do you need to attend?
‘Employers generally manage sickness absence in stages – stage one in the early stages of absence and stage three or four later on. The stages should be outlined in the employer’s policy. Some employers have different approaches to short term, repeated absence and long term absence. You will probably be invited to a meeting at each stage,’ says Nicola.
Your manager may discuss whether anything work-related is contributing to the sickness, and whether adjustments or accommodations can be made to help get you back to work. They may ask you to provide further medical evidence from your doctor (a fit note is only required if you’ve been absent for more than seven consecutive days) or Occupational Health provider.
Your employer may set a target date for a return to work. In some cases, they may also limit the amount of sickness absence they deem allowable in future. Typically, a system of trigger points is used to decide what constitutes “problematic absence”. This could be one long stretch of sickness or a number of shorter term absences over a given period of time.
‘Employers should not unreasonably apply stringent restrictions to sick leave – for example saying at a stage one meeting that taking further absences during the next six or twelve months may result in further action, including dismissal. There are clear risks of presenteeism and infection control problems in these situations,’ says Nicola.
Sickness stage 1 meetings
A stage 1 meeting may be called if you’ve been off sick for more than a week, or if you have had repeated periods of absence depending on your employer’s policy.
‘Try not to be too anxious about this meeting. The employer is under a duty to follow the policy the same as you,’ says Nicola.
‘At this first level meeting this is no legal right to representation. Most employers will allow you to take an RCN rep into the meeting if you wish, but if there are no on-going issues you may choose to take a colleague with you, or go on your own and make notes. However, if you’re concerned or the sickness is work-related, it’s worth contacting the RCN for advice.’
Sickness stage 2 meetings
If you are off work for a longer period or if you have repeated periods of sickness whilst on stage 1, you may trigger stage 2 of the policy.
If you reach this stage, it’s best to seek advice. Your employer will need to follow policy and monitor the situation carefully – which may involve liaising with your Human Resources and Occupational Health departments, if you have them. Your employer may also refer you to the national Fit for Work Service for support.
Sickness stage 3/4 meetings
A stage 3 / 4 meeting may be called if you are off sick for a long period or if there is continued repeated sickness.
‘At this stage the employer will consider all the options open to them, which should include redeployment and how to make adjustments to help you get back to work. However, if return to work is not possible, you may have to discuss potential dismissal and/or ill health retirement,’ says Nicola.
‘If you reach this stage, don’t go into the meeting alone. Call the RCN, who can offer advice.’
How to handle the work meetings
Before you go into any meeting, take time to prepare and read your local policy.
Nicola says: ‘Ask to be given copies of all the paperwork your manager has for the meeting, such as Occupational Health reports. If you only get this information on the day of the meeting, request a short break to read the papers and consult with your rep.
‘Listen carefully to what’s being said and ask for clarification if necessary. You don’t want to make a snap decision you later regret, so if emotions are running high, ask for a break.
‘The same goes for any matter brought up or a question that you feel unsure about. Ask for time to consider the issue, even if this means the meeting has to be adjourned.’
You should request that any proposals are put down in writing and sent to you for full consideration.
‘You are entitled to a copy of any notes taken at the meeting and it is good practice for minutes to be made so that decisions and actions are recorded. If minutes are not forthcoming, it can be a useful tactic to write your own and send them to management yourself,’ says Nicola.
Finally, it’s possible that your employment is terminated on the grounds of incapacity due to ill health – if medical opinion confirms you’re unable to return to work, and no suitable alternative role is found within a set time. Early intervention and help is essential – so do seek advice and support early on.
The RCN has a useful guide to Sickness disciplinary action and dismissal.
Image Copyright: Ocskay Mark, Shutterstock.com