Labour Research June 2012

Health & Safety Matters

Sickness absence policies force staff back to work

Concerns over sickness absence policies are highlighted in a survey of public sector workers.

The public services union UNISON in Scotland recently sought the views of workers on the operation of sickness absence policies. Its survey found that almost half of respondents said that such policies encouraged staff to attend work when ill or injured.

The survey also shows that in the month before the survey a quarter of respondents (25%) had worked when too ill to do so, and three out of five (60%) had done so in the past year. Just over a quarter of workers (26%) said that their organisation’s sickness absence policy is badly implemented by management while three out of five (60%) said it is not effective. Alarmingly, just over a quarter (28%) said that there is no stress policy at all.

“From this survey, it appears that many public service employers in Scotland see managing sickness absence as forcing employees back to work as soon as possible, or disciplining those who are off work more regularly than others,” said Scott Donohoe, chair of UNISON’s Scottish health and safety committee. “We should all be concerned that nurses, care workers, school staff and others are going to work when they are too ill to do so.”

Dave Watson, UNISON’s Scottish organiser, said: “There is most to gain from tackling the causes of absence, particularly stress, and helping people return to work.”