“We are friendly, courteous, inclusive and considerate of the circumstances of others.” So says the HMRC values and culture zone which supposedly sets out the way HMRC is meant to behave as an organisation. As lead PCS negotiator covering attendance management within HMRC I spend a significant amount of time dealing with calls from members and local reps who feel that the policy is far from friendly, courteous or considerate. I also occasionally get calls from relatives of HMRC staff who are appalled at the way HMRC treats staff who are off sick. Some of them state that they work in the private sector and they express surprise that a public sector organisation treats their staff worse than their employer. I am tempted to give them the phone number of HR policy so they convey their views to them.
It is apparent that the current attendance management policy is leading a number of managers to behave in a more mechanistic and hostile manner when dealing with staff who are ill.
We are aware of one instance where a member was told by their line manager that given they were being admitted to hospital for heart surgery in the afternoon they should come to work in the morning and travel to the hospital at lunchtime. The day after this member was discharged from hospital their line manager phoned them to ask when they would be returning to work.
We are currently reviewing one case where a member has been dismissed after apparently only taking 19 days sick leave over a 12-month period.
After considerable argument HMRC has recently agreed to undertake a review of the attendance management policy involving the unions. While this is welcome, achieving positive changes to the policy will not be easy. The current attitude of HMRC is that only tweaks are required. At the first review meeting, feedback was sought from a number of HR business partners covering various business areas. They were all positive in their feedback. The only substantive concern raised was that the policy guidance was too lengthy.
In the rest of this article I set out a far from exhaustive list of the issues PCS is dealing with.
We are aware of a number of instances where managers have told staff who take sick leave as a result of work-related incidents that they need to lodge Civil Service Injury Benefit Scheme (CSIBS) applications. Pending the outcome of the CSIBS application they have been told that they could be subject to a formal warning if any of the trigger points were reached. Any such warnings would be withdrawn in the event that the CSIBS application is successful. When we raised this with HR policy they expressed incredulity at the suggestion that managers were giving this advice to staff. We have therefore provided documentary evidence to them that proved this is happening and HMRC is now reviewing that.
PCS believes that managers should not be requiring staff to lodge CSIBS claims in order to avoid warnings under the attendance management policy. If it is apparent that a member of staff is off work due to a work-related injury then a manager should simply agree that issuing a warning is not appropriate.
Public health authorities across the UK have been reporting that the flu season has been particularly severe this year.
We have raised, with HMRC, our concern that managers in some areas have been telling staff who are off work due to having infectious illnesses that if they did not attend work they would receive a warning.
We believe that staff absent from work due to having an infectious illness should have their absence discounted for the purposes of attendance management.
Managers’ discretion HMRC has repeatedly told PCS that the attendance management policy clearly states that managers have discretion as to whether formal warnings are issued. The published procedure states: “The decision on the action to be taken remains the responsibility of the line manager and must not be escalated to, assumed by or attributed to the person giving the advice.”
In practice we are aware of too many instances where managers have clearly adopted a mechanistic approach and are automatically issuing a warning once the trigger points have been reached. We are also aware of instances where managers feel directed to issue warnings. In one instance a manager was told by their assistant director that they could exercise their discretion not to issue a formal warning. However, they were also told that if they didn’t issue a warning that decision would be remembered when the manager had their end of year performance management review.
We have raised this with senior officials within HR policy. They say that they undertaking further work to underline that managers have discretion.
With respect to the requirement to hold formal meetings with staff at certain points in the process both PCS and ARC unions have raised with HMRC our view that managers should be allowed some discretion to determine when it is appropriate to hold meetings with staff who are on sick leave.
We have had to intervene in a number of cases where managers have sought to undertake formal unsatisfactory attendance meeting while the member of staff is in hospital.
The right to appeal warnings under the attendance management policy
We have repeatedly told HMRC that the restrictions on the right of appeal have to be removed. It is a clear form of complaint suppression and it is contrary to both the Civil Service Management Code and the ACAS Code of Practice on Disciplinary and Grievance Procedures. No other government department restricts the right of appeal warnings in the way HMRC does.
It is not acceptable on the one hand for HMRC to state that it “will not tolerate any form of bullying, harassment or discrimination” and on the other hand have a policy that results in complaints of disability discrimination in respect of the application of the attendance management policy being thrown out without a hearing under paragraphs 112 and 113 of the policy.
We have pointed out to HMRC that parliamentary answers given by the financial secretary to the Treasury on 20 October, 2017 indicate that HMRC accepts that there shouldn’t be restrictions on the right of appeal. For those who are interested the answers they can found here and here
HMRC hasn't challenged PCS on this point, however it hasn't removed the restrictions. We are therefore suggesting that anyone appealing a warning under the attendance management policy insert the following 2 paragraphs in their letter of appeal: “In making this appeal I refer to the parliamentary answers given by the financial secretary to the Treasury (FST) on 20 October 2017. In these answers the FST stated that in accordance with both the Civil Service Management Code and the ACAS Code of Practice on Disciplinary and Grievance Procedures an employee subject to a formal warning under the attendance management policy has a right of appeal at each formal decision point of the attendance management process. The parliamentary answers make no reference to any restrictions on this right of appeal.
Given the requirement contained within the ministerial code for parliamentary answers to be accurate I consider that these parliamentary answers override any provisions contained in the attendance management procedure restricting the right to appeal the imposition of warnings. I therefore expect to be invited to an appeal hearing to discuss further the grounds for my appeal.”
PCS group office would be interested to know of any instances where appeals containing the above wordings are summarily dismissed without a hearing.