News update – Council gets tough on absence

A Northumberland borough council has slashed its sickness absence rate by 30% by taking a harder line on staff who clock up regular sick days. Castle Morpeth Borough Council’s 300 staff had one of the highest local authority sickness rates in the country, with an average of 16.74 days per year, prior to the introduction of strict new sickness absence measures.

It has put in place a sickness absence plan that includes a healthcare cash plan, occupational health assessments and more thorough return-to-work interviews. Six months after implementation, the sickness absence rate fell to 11.63 days. Jill Emery, HR and performance manager at the council, said the key planks of the programme included a proactive return to work policy and a harder line on staff taking regular sickness days.

She said the council had become more efficient in dealing with long-term sick cases, including those unlikely to return to work and where the council could do no more beyond its legal obligations.

"If they’re off for more than four weeks, we refer them to the occupational health unit, which is contracted out. I think that’s helped, as it’s given us up to date medical information," she said.