Thames Reach
Friday 17 November 2017
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Sickness absence

For some trainees with a history of homelessness, moving into employment can be a difficult transition. Some trainees may have complicated backgrounds and medical histories. This can lead to high levels of sickness, which the trainee will need to be supported through and which also need to be managed.

Why is sickness an important issue?

Trainees play an important role and it is important that they are available to work with service users. There is a joint responsibility for the trainee and their line-manager to follow the Managing Sickness Absence Policy to ensure that trainees, if possible, are at work, and are able to complete the full period of their traineeship. The more time trainees are at work and building their skills, the more employable they become after the traineeship. Also, importantly, our clients receive continuity of service.

Although sickness is an area which should be considered and planned for, it is also important to note that of all GROW trainees who worked at Thames Reach the majority (65%) had no long-term sickness.

The issues

For trainees

  • Maintaining communication

  • Communicating to the correct person

  • Producing the correct certification

  • Understanding sickness pay entitlements

  • Understanding that support offered is not of a disciplinary nature

  • A desire to be in work when they are genuinely sick and not to disappoint their team or colleagues

  • Following the Sickness Absence Policy

For managers

  • Maintaining communication

  • Managing more complex issues

  • Ensuring the correct certification is produced

  • Managing unauthorised leave

  • Managing absences consistently

  • Ending a traineeship whilst the trainee is still absent

  • A desire to see trainees successfully complete their traineeship

  • Difficulty between understanding the trainees’ personal backgrounds and ensuring absence is managed according to Thames Reach’s policy

Implementing the Managing Sickness Absence Policy

Trainees are introduced to the key elements of the policy during their induction, and guidance on managing sickness is provided to trainees’ line-managers and supervisors.

The Managing Sickness Absence Policy has been implemented flexibly, taking into account trainees’ complicated histories. However, the sickness of trainees has not been managed differently from any other Thames Reach employee, and the principle procedures of the policy have been adhered to. Trainees have, for example, always been required to communicate with their line-manager when absent and produce medical certification.

The Human Resources team has also been available to support line managers and to provide advice on how to manage trainees’ absence, as well as calculating when sickness pay entitlements have been overtaken.

The policy has always been implemented with the aim of trying to facilitate trainees’ return to work, if at all possible.

Most relevant sections of the policy

  • Responsibilities of the employee and line-manager

  • Notification and communication

  • Certification

  • Sick pay entitlements

  • Return to work interviews

  • Understanding causes of sickness absence

  • Forms of action to take, especially Occupational Health

Managing Sickness Absence Policy from the resources page.

Lessons learnt

Sometimes, because of trainees’ backgrounds, it may seem more appropriate to deviate from your Managing Sickness Absence Policy. From our experience, however, the policy should be followed. Trainees’ absences should be managed sensitively but in the same way as you would any employee’s absence. For example, sickness pay deductions should be made.

To integrate trainees with a history of homelessness into your organisation they should be managed in the same way as other employees – and this is also true for sickness absence. As with any other staff member, on occasions, you may need to accept that you will not be able to support the trainee back into work. On these occasions you should work with the trainee to find the most suitable solution. For example, after taking a break, a former trainee has returned to Thames Reach as a volunteer.

It is also important to monitor your trainees’ experiences once they begin work, including their sickness histories and how these are managed. If you recognise what does and does not work well, the necessary changes can be made before your next intake.

For example, we realised that some trainees with a history of substance misuse did not notify their line-manager when they were absent due to relapse. When we investigated, we discovered that this was because the trainees, in calling the office, would have to either admit they had relapsed or fabricate a lie, neither of which they wanted to do. When we learnt about this behaviour, we began reinforcing during induction the importance for all trainees to notify their line-manager if they are absent, in whatever situation.

Case studies

The case studies below are examples of how Thames Reach managed trainees’ sickness. They outline our experiences, mistakes and successes, which will provide some insight for you to use within your own organisations.

Olivia's story

Jessica's story (and see below)

A trainee with a history of substance misuse, Jessica, began at Thames Reach in a frontline team. She found it difficult working with service users with challenging histories/behaviours and struggled with the pressures associated with this.

Within two months the trainee relapsed, became depressed and was absent from work for over a month. Medical certificates were provided and communication was maintained.

The GROW Project Manager liaised with Human Resources, who calculated that sickness pay entitlements had been exhausted. Jessica was paid at the Statutory Sick Pay rate for the rest of the period of her absence.

The GROW Project Manager aimed to support Jessica back into work, and did so by reducing the her hours and moving her into a non-frontline traineeship.

Jessica continued to have occasional absences and was supported using Occupational Health. She is now a permanent, full-time member of staff.

Human Resources Officer