Dear UNISON member,
I am writing with regard to proposed changes being made by Brighton & Hove City Council around how you are being asked to report sickness. At the current time, it is an agreed process that you would phone up your line manager and explain you were taking time off. You are then required to keep in touch with your line manager and update them on when you would be returning to work etc. Once back at work, you would have a meeting with your line manager and a Return to Work interview would be carried out (I’m aware this doesn’t always happen but that is what should happen!).
BHCC have now employed a third party organisation to “manage” your sickness. This company is called First Care and we have been in recent discussions with senior management/Human Resources regarding the use of such an organisation. A pilot is going to be introduced into some of the directorates and you will be required to phone this company on your first day of sickness, rather than your manager. They will then “triage” you in regard to your circumstances of sickness and will notify your manager of your absence.
BHCC believe that this company (which is privately run) will be able to provide the support needed for whilst you are off sick; however, their sole purpose for employing this company is to reduce sickness absence and UNISON is extremely concerned about a number of issues for which we have had no reassurances:
· What if an employee does not wish to discuss their absence with a stranger who is not their manager nor someone from BHCC?
· What advice would the employee be given by First Care that they could not receive from their own GP/medical professional?
· What if an employee does not wish to discuss personal information with a stranger in regard to an underlying health condition (this could apply for example to someone with a mental health condition/disability?)
· How is the information given to First Care by the employee stored? How can staff be assured there is no data protection issue?
· What if staff do not wish to take or receive “triaging” to other services; what are the consequences? Would they be viewed as not “helping themselves”?
· What if advice given by this company contradicts GP/medical advisor advice?
Because of the above, UNISON is advising our members not to comply with this new process. We believe that the current process of sickness reporting, whilst not perfect, is the right one. Employees have a working relationship with their line manager where, if they so choose, they can discuss their health issues. No such relationship exists with First Care and we feel that is it likely staff will not want to go through their medical history and current situation when they can do so with their line manager. Also, First Care involvement does not mean that your line manager won’t be expecting you to discuss your current health situation with him or her as well and so we are somewhat unsure as to why First Care are needed (other than to work towards reducing absence via less supportive means). We are told that they have a good track record for reducing absence significantly and the concerns we hold are around how they achieve this. In the absence of any clear information coming from BHCC UNISON feels it is right to bring this situation to our members’ attention and to advise members not to comply.
If you are an employee within one of the directorates that the pilot is taking place in, and you or colleagues are placed in a position of being told to contact First Care during sickness absence, please contact me straight away. I have advised BHCC that UNISON is sending out and advice and support to our members.
With best wishes
UNISON Brighton & Hove Branch