Workers at Chorley Council will no longer receive warnings if they have been repeatedly absent from work - and will instead be set targets for their future attendance.
The changes are part of an attempt to tackle staff sickness at the authority, which is higher than expected. An average of just over eight days per worker were lost to absence during 2017/18, exceeding the council’s own target by almost a day.
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However, Chorley’s absence rate is still amongst the lowest of all councils in the North West.
The authority says the new policy is designed to “support employees to improve their attendance”.
“It’s not intended as a tool to...dismiss employees,” Hollie Walmsley, the council’s human resources consultant, told a meeting of the overview and scrutiny committee. “It’s just something we can use if someone’s attendance becomes critically problematic.”
“All employee absence has a detrimental impact on service delivery - it means that a service isn’t able to deliver what it should be delivering and that other staff are having to do more,” Ms Walmsley added.
Employees will now be handed an ‘action plan’ if they exceed any one of a series of defined levels of absence - including more than three periods off sick within six months. Staff will then be set a target for how long they should be back in work without taking time off.
Repeated patterns of sickness at certain of times of year will also qualify for an action plan, but pregnant employees, those suffering from injuries sustained at work and anybody diagnosed with a terminal illness will all be exempt.
The meeting heard that the new policy, which was introduced last month, had been largely welcomed by staff. “They certainly prefer it to a letter telling them they are going to get a warning,” Hollie Walmsley told councillors.
The committee was also told that an emotional wellbeing policy is now in place to help employees dealing with mental health issues - one of the main reasons for absence at the authority.
The aim is to help workers whose problems may originate from other aspects of their lives. “It’s very rare that an issue of stress is linked only to the workplace - work could simply be a trigger,” Ms. Walmsley said.
Chorley Council will fund up to six counselling sessions for staff who are deemed to be in need of specialist support.