New guidance issued from Cabinet Office on attendance management

20 Jan 2020

After extensive consultation with the national trade union committee (NTUC) representing all civil service trade unions, Cabinet Office Civil Service Employee Policy (CSEP) has now issued new procedures and guidance on “Supporting attendance” - civil service attendance management procedures.

The products went live in November 2019. Following this, civil service employers are now, or already have, incorporated the procedures into their own, revised attendance management procedures.

There are no radical or negative changes contained in the new procedures, at least as regards departure from the currently accepted norms. The CSEP guidance is summarised on the “Process overview” chart at the beginning of the main CSEP “Supporting attendance procedure” document. It follows what has been standard procedure across departments and agencies for some time now, i.e. it mandates a return to work discussion after a period of sick absence, from which different strands of activity emerge depending on whether the employee has reached or exceeded their personal trigger point.

There are elements of the CSEP guidance that are not ideal and leave room for misunderstanding or exploitation by unsympathetic employers/managers, i.e. that the manager and employee “should work together to adopt a work-focused approach” - therefore not, implicitly, a health-centred approach. This is stressed not just as general principle but even during the initial first phone call to notify the manager of the employee’s absence due to sickness. We also have concerns that the manager is supposed to go through a “checklist” during that first call, even though the employee will at that point be at their lowest ebb.

More positively, CSEP states explicitly that an appeal should be heard by an appeal manager who is “at least one grade higher” than the manager who made the original decision, and also should be “independent”, i.e. a person who had had no previous involvement in the case or vested interest in the outcome. This latter is important, as it should help to confirm that the original manager’s line manager, should not deal with the appeal if that person could be said to have a vested interest in supporting the original decision.

The process of negotiating new attendance management procedures has also helped to clarify issues around the treatment of terminally ill employees. As a result there is now a CSEP sub-group on policies and procedures for terminally ill staff, and it should now be possible to achieve improvements in this crucial area. The NTUC has also confirmed with CSEP that civil service employers, i.e. individual departments and NDPBs, are free to sign up to the TUC’s “Dying to work charter” if they so wish. We would therefore expect more civil service employers to do so because their published policies already meet the criteria contained in the charter.

The new attendance management procedures and guidance are now being implemented by departments and NDPBs and are being incorporated into staff handbooks. As they are, they should be subject to on-going consultation and review with the relevant TUS. It is important that any problems or concerns arising from this process, in particular if there is any evidence that people with disabilities are finding it harder to access the required assessments or support for adjustments, be reported to the centre, so that these can be raised by the NTUC with CSEP.

Please also continue to monitor and report on the general situation in regard to these issues in your bargaining area or workplace.

John Moloney

Assitstant general secretary

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