Here at the Co-op, we know that there’ll be times when you can’t come to work – whether because you’re ill or something else unexpected has happened. We want to support you and help you come back to work as soon as possible. But we’ll also need to review and manage your absence, to minimise the impact on our business.

This policy sets out our approach to managing absence. There’s also a Short-term Sickness Absence Process which outlines the steps we’ll follow to deal with short-term absence. And if you’re off sick for a prolonged period of time, the steps we’ll take to manage this are set out in the Ongoing Sickness Absence Process.

The absence reporting procedure applies to all forms of unplanned absence – including sickness absence and also things like emergency leave and compassionate leave – but the rest of the Absence Policy, and the supporting processes, just relate to sickness absence.

Just so it’s clear, in some cases the Disciplinary Policy may apply rather than, or as well as, the Absence Policy, such as:

  • if you don’t follow the absence reporting procedure
  • if we have reasonable grounds to believe that your sickness absence isn’t genuine
  • if you give inaccurate or misleading information about your sickness absence

Crucial bits

Absence reporting procedure
If you can’t come to work for any reason, you need to let us know. You must call your manager - or another designated manager or absence reporting line where available - at least one hour before the time you’re due to start work or by 10am (whichever’s earlier). Some business areas need more notice than this for operational reasons – if this applies to you, your manager will let you know what you need to do.

If it’s not possible for you to call an hour before you’re due to start work – for example, if your manager won’t be available until the time you’re due to start – then call them as soon as reasonably possible.

Make sure you know who you need to call if you can’t come to work and have the phone numbers you need. We don’t accept texts, emails, messages on social media or messages from another person unless you really can’t call yourself – like if you’re in hospital.

If you’ve got more than one job at the Co-op, you need to follow the absence reporting procedure for both roles. You should call each of your managers to tell them about your absence. If sickness, or another reason for absence, means that you can work in one role but not in another, then just contact the manager for that role to let them know.

When you call in you’ll need to tell us: - Why you’re absent and how long you expect to be off work - Your phone number so your manager can contact you - Details of any urgent or outstanding work that needs picking up while you’re off

It’s really important that you follow the absence reporting procedure for every unplanned absence. If you don’t, this will be viewed as unauthorised absence which is a serious matter and could result in your pay being stopped and disciplinary action being taken against you, up to and including dismissal – see the Unauthorised Absence Policy for more information.

Keeping in contact
During the call you should agree with your manager how you’ll stay in touch during your absence. This should be daily in the first week, unless it wouldn’t be appropriate in the circumstances. But if your absence lasts for longer than this, you should agree with your manager when you need to call.

It’s important to stay in contact with your manager in addition to providing Fit Notes and attending any absence review meetings. As a minimum, you should always call your manager the day before your Fit Note expires, to let them know whether or not you’ll be returning to work.

Keep your manager updated with any new information about your health and how you’re progressing towards recovery. And tell them if your doctor gives you any likely timescales for coming back to work. If you feel that the reasons for your absence are to do with your work, please talk to your manager, or an alternative manager, about this as soon as possible and they’ll try to resolve things.

If you have more than one role with the Co-op, you should keep each of your line managers updated about your sickness absence, and give them both copies of any Fit Notes.

Also just so you’re aware, while you’re absent from work your manager might call you from time to time if there’s anything they need to speak to you about, or just to keep in touch with you.

Sickness certification
You should self-certify your sickness up to and including seven calendar days using the Self-Certification Form at the top of the page. You need to fill this in and give to your manager. But if you’re off sick for over seven days, you need to get a Fit Note from your doctor to cover your absence from the eighth day onwards. If you want to keep the original Fit Note that’s okay – your manager will take a copy.

We may ask you to get a Fit Note from your doctor before the eighth day of your absence – but we’ll only do this in exceptional circumstances and the Co-op will pay you back if there’s a charge for this if you give us your doctor’s invoice.

If your GP’s referred you to the Fit for Work service and they’ve given you a Return to Work Plan, give a copy of this to your manager. You then won’t need to give us a separate Fit Note for the length of the Plan. You don’t have to share your Return to Work Plan with your manager, but if you don’t you’ll need to give them a Fit Note instead.

Remember, any period of sickness absence which isn’t covered by self-certification, Fit Note or Return to Work Plan is classed as unauthorised absence – see the Unauthorised Absence Policy. So, if you’re absent from work for any length of time, it’s important to make sure that the documents you give us cover the whole time, with no gaps in between them. Managers should remember to record the colleague as off sick on the HR system. If the colleague has more than one Co-op role, each manager should record the sickness absence on their relevant systems.

Sick pay
Details of your sick pay are in your contract of employment – talk to your manager if you need any further information.

If you qualify for Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) and Co-op Sick Pay (CSP) then CSP will be paid as the difference between SSP and your normal wage. More information about SSP is available at www.gov.uk/statutory-sick-pay.

If you have more than one Co-op job, your entitlement to SSP will be calculated from your combined earnings across all roles. Your entitlement to CSP will be based on the individual terms and conditions of each role.

We may stop paying CSP in certain circumstances, including the following. SSP may also be stopped if the rules around this payment haven’t been met. Managers should always contact ER Services for advice before stopping sick pay.

  • You don’t follow the Co-op Absence Policy, including the absence reporting procedure without good reason
  • You don’t provide a required Fit Note
  • You don’t attend a scheduled Occupational Health appointment, without good reason or without giving the required notice, until you attend a rescheduled appointment
  • You’re absent from work due to sickness pending any investigation, disciplinary or performance improvement meeting - see the Disciplinary Policy and Performance Improvement Policy for more information
  • We have evidence that you’re behaving in a way that’s inconsistent with the reason for your absence or engaging in activities (including other work, paid or unpaid, or any sports or hobbies) that are likely to delay your recovery or make your condition worse. If you’re in any doubt about doing certain activities, get advice from your doctor.
  • If you’re undergoing voluntary cosmetic surgery. If so, we may agree to let you take holiday so your pay isn’t affected. In some cases, cosmetic surgery can be necessary for medical reasons – so talk to your manager about your circumstances.

If we decide to pay you CSP for a period where you’d only got SSP before, this will be paid in the next available payroll and we won’t make ad-hoc payments.

If a medical authority tells you that you mustn’t attend work after being in contact with a notifiable disease, make sure you tell your manager as soon as possible. This will be classed as paid leave and won’t count towards the calculation of absence triggers.

If you’re off sick because of a physical or psychological injury caused by a member of the public whilst in work, and we think the incident was serious enough for you to be absent, we’ll give you some paid leave and this won’t count towards the calculation of absence triggers.

Occupational health
If you’re off sick, we may want to refer you to Occupational Health to get more information about your condition. You don’t have to agree, but if you don’t we’ll manage your absence on the basis of the limited information we’ve got.

Once your appointment is booked, it’s important you attend. If you need to cancel or reschedule, you must call them and your manager, giving at least two clear weekdays’ notice (not including the date you call and the date of your appointment). So, if your appointment’s on a Thursday, you should tell them on the Monday if you can’t go, and if it’s booked for Wednesday, you should tell them the Friday before. You can find more information in the Occupational Health Guide (this is available on our intranet site, if you don’t have access to this please ask your manager for a copy).

Return to work meeting
Your manager will meet with you after every absence to talk about how you’re feeling and if there are any adjustments suggested on your Fit Note or Return to Work Plan. They’ll record details of what you discuss in a Return to Work Discussion Form (this is available on our intranet site, if you don’t have access to this please ask your manager for a copy).

This meeting must take place on the day you return to work. If you work in a safety critical role, including roles that involve driving or operating machinery, then the return to work meeting must happen before you start work again and your manager may also carry out a Risk Assessment (this is available on our intranet site, if you don’t have access to this please ask your manager for a copy) to make sure that you’re fit to return to work. If any changes need to be made to your work or working environment to support you to return to work, these will be recorded in a Work Adjustments Form.

In the meeting, your manager will talk to you about the reason for your absence and about any concerns you may have, and also about the impact of your absence and any next steps that might be taken. It’s important to tell your manager if you think there may be underlying reasons for your absence, or if you were absent for a work-related reason.

Absence triggers
At the Co-op we have a system of absence triggers in place to help us manage short-term periods of absence. These triggers are: - Three periods of absence in a rolling 12 month period (two if you’re within your probationary period – see the Probationary Period Policy - 20 or more days/shifts of absence in a rolling 12 month period - Where there’s a pattern of absence – (such as the Tuesday after a bank holiday weekend or the day after a big social or sporting event)

If you reach one of these absence triggers, you’ll be invited to an absence review meeting to talk about your levels of absence. At the end of this meeting your manager may give you an absence warning – although we won’t do this for sickness absences that are pregnancy-related.

If you have a live absence warning and you’re absent again, you’ll be asked to attend an absence review meeting so your manager can discuss your absence levels and see whether things have improved since the warning was given. There’s more details about the process we’ll follow in the Short-term Sickness Absence Process.

If you have more than one Co-op job, absence triggers will be considered separately across each role.

Managers should contact ER Services if they need advice about absence triggers or warnings.

Things to think about

Sickness and holidays
If you’re off sick and have pre-booked holiday that you’re too unwell to take, you can ask for the holiday to be cancelled so you can take it another time. Also, if you become ill during your holiday, and are unwell enough that you wouldn’t have been able to go to work, you can ask for those holiday days to be cancelled.

Instead of using holiday, you’ll be recorded as sick and get any sick pay you’re eligible for. But you must follow the absence reporting procedure - otherwise you won’t be able to change your holidays to sickness. Just so it’s clear, if your holidays are changed to sickness, this absence will count towards any absence triggers.

If you’re abroad when you become ill you still need to follow the absence reporting procedure if you want to change from holiday to sickness. You’ll need to agree with your manager how you’ll stay in touch with them, bearing in mind your access to a telephone/computer and the time difference. If you’re sick for more than seven consecutive days, you’ll still need to give us a medical certificate for this period, just like if you’re ill in the UK.

If you haven’t been able to take your holidays during the holiday year because you’ve been off sick for a prolonged period, you can carry forward up to four weeks holiday into the next holiday year, pro-rata if you work part-time. Talk to your manager about the arrangements for this – managers should then contact HR Services to organise for the holiday to be carried forward. This can’t be processed by your manager. You must use any carried forward holidays within 18 months of the end of the holiday year in which you accrued them.

If you’re off sick for a prolonged period, you can choose to take holidays during your absence – contact your manager to discuss. Managers will then need to inform HR Services to make sure they get paid.

If your holiday entitlement doesn’t include bank holidays and there’s one while you’re off sick then the day will be recorded as sickness absence and you’ll get a day’s holiday to take in-lieu. You should just agree this with your manager, you don’t need to put it into the HR system.

Disability-related absence
If you think you have a disability, talk to your manager about it and discuss any adjustments you need. There’s more information in the Guide to Reasonable Adjustments.

If you’re off sick due to a disability-related illness, your manager will try to support you to return to work. They might refer you to Occupational Health to find out more about your condition, how it may affect you at work and whether there are any adjustments we could make to help.

These absences might count towards the absence triggers in some circumstances. But it might be a reasonable adjustment to agree a revised absence trigger with you for absences related to a disability or to not include them when calculating absences triggers. If you have any questions or concerns about disability-related absence, speak to your manager. Managers should call ER Services for advice on revising absence triggers for colleagues with disabilities.

Phased return
If you’re coming back to work after an extended absence, you might need a phased return. This means you’ll return to work gradually, helping you get back up to speed and to check that any adjustments we’ve made are working.

Phased returns can include returning on reduced hours, or doing amended duties. They usually last for 4-6 weeks, but can be for up to 12 weeks in some circumstances. Any phased return will be based on the advice from Occupational Health or your GP.

Just so you know, if you’re working reduced hours during a phased return, you’ll normally get paid for the actual hours you work. Talk to your manager about options such as using holidays or any remaining sick pay for the hours that you’re not working. Managers should speak to ER Services if they need advice about this.

Confidentiality and medical information
If you’re off sick, we’ll keep the reason for this as confidential as possible. But there may be times when your manager needs to discuss your medical condition with people other than HR, and they’ll agree this with you before sharing your information. See the Medical Information Policy on the intranet.

Third party accidents
If your absence is caused by an accident or act of negligence by a third party, you must tell your manager. If you get compensation for loss of earnings you’ll need to refund the Co-op the equivalent amount for sick pay you’ve been paid. If the amount is repaid in full, the absence won’t be included when calculating your remaining sick pay, but it may be included when calculating absence triggers.

If you need further support

You may need additional support, so remember we have an Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) who can help. You can contact the EAP in confidence on 0800 069 8854.

“This policy is not intended to be comprehensive, but to act as a high level guide. This policy does not form part of your employment contract and may be withdrawn or amended at any time.”