Absence Management

NHS Lothian’s experience suggests that the vast majority of staff will approach a pandemic in a spirit of cooperation and commitment. We will seek to support and sustain morale during the pandemic and absence management will need to be handled with care and sensitivity.


Staff must notify their line manager of any absence in line with current absence notification procedure. Absence for symptoms consistent with COVID-19 and confirmed cases of COVID-19 will be recorded as Special Leave as they will not count towards sickness absence triggers. Staff will be entitled to payment as if at work during this period, if they have been medically or through NHS inform guidance been advised to self-isolate. Payment as if at work will include any preplanned overtime or additional hours’ payments. Bank staff required to self-isolate should be paid for the shifts they had already booked for the period of self-isolation.

Staff in the immune-suppressed category, who have been on a lengthy period of absence, may be entitled to an extension of sick pay where they are unable to return as planned given the restrictions.

One particular issue that may arise is that some staff may be concerned about coming to work due to fear of infection. Efforts should be made to reassurance staff e.g. by direct approaches from clinical colleagues as this may elicit a better response than managerial intervention. It should be stressed that those staff not dealing directly with symptomatic patients are not at high risk. There is no right to refuse to attend work unless there is a clear health and safety risk to the employee such if they have an underlying health condition. Managers should however acknowledge the level of fear that a pandemic is likely to generate and seek to persuade rather than penalise.

Medical Certification

Given the pressures on GP Practices, there is no requirement to submit medical certificates for any period of sickness absence of less than 14 days. Where staff are unable to produce certification beyond 14 days managers should exercise discretion based on the individual case and the reasons why this has not been possible. Staff who are required to self-isolate due to household illness or risk assessed isolation due to underlying health issues do not require to produce certification.

Carers’ Responsibilities

NHS Lothian recognises that in addition to work responsibilities during the pandemic, many staff will potentially have carer’s responsibilities whether in terms of dealing with sick dependents or if usual care arrangements become disrupted such as school closures. Staff will be given appropriate leave in line with NHS Lothian Special Leave Policy although as “key workers” there is an expectation that staff will make alternate arrangements wherever possible to ensure the impact on patient care is as minimal as practicable. Staff who have caring responsibilities for school age children with no symptoms who have chosen to remove them from school prior to school closures, will not be entitled to Special Leave. Annual leave or unpaid leave should be allocated.

Monitoring Absence

NHS Lothian already has robust information systems which enable us to track the levels of sickness absence. However during a pandemic we need to be able to assess the impact that this pandemic is having on our own staff's daily attendance levels.

In order to do this it is important that SSTS is updated daily to allow real time reporting. Recording should be classified as follows:

  • If medical advice has confirmed that, an employee’s symptoms are consistent with COVID-19 then their absence must be recorded under Special Leave SP Coronavirus -self-isolating.
  • If the employee has been tested and confirmed as having COVID-19, the absence must be recorded as Special Leave under SP Coronavirus – COVID Positive.
  • For staff who are following advice to self-isolate - The absence should be recorded as Special Leave SP Coronavirus – self isolating. This includes staff who have to self-isolate due to a household member with symptoms or due to risk given health status.
  • For staff who have been advised to self-isolate but are able to work from home, there is no requirement to record this as special leave.
  • Absences for staff who require access to special leave for caring responsibilities should be recorded under the code SP Coronavirus.
  • Staff who have caring responsibilities for school age children with no symptoms who have chosen to remove them from school prior to school closures should be recorded as annual leave or unpaid leave where appropriate.