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All of us, as employees, recognise that there are times when we may require being absent from work due to ill health. If this is to happen, we have an expectation that we can have a confidential discussion with our line manager and that we will be given support and understanding.
Alas, this is not always the case. It has been brought to our attention that some of our doctors in training are facing an aggressive approach to absence management when having to take time off due to ill health.
So let’s be clear about a couple of things:
Gaps on rota
Many rotas across Northern Ireland will continue to experience gaps due to posts not being filled and employers continue to have an expectation of doctors who are on the rotas to breach the gaps for ongoing, extended periods of time. Again this is causing great distress and difficulties for doctors.
With that in mind, BMA Northern Ireland would like to highlight advice to Junior Doctors as to what action you should take when you become absent from work due to ill health, you are requested to cover for absent colleagues, or you are requested to cover gaps on a rota.
Responsibility of Junior Doctors when absent from work due to ill health
You are contractually obliged to notify your employer immediately of your absence, its nature and, if possible, how long you expect to be absent. Beyond the third day you must submit a statement regarding the nature of the illness.
You can do this by gaining a self-certificate from your employer upon your return to work.
The self-certificate is to cover days four to six of the absence. After seven calendar days, medical certificates completed by a doctor other than you should be submitted i.e. a fit note.
Having advised the employer of the absence, it is the employer’s responsibility to arrange appropriate cover. The employer has no right to request a doctor who is absent due to ill health to make the necessary cover arrangements. Nor should the doctor be put under any pressure when absent to repay the cover at a later date. If you are unfit for work, under health and safety legislation you should not be at work.
It is vitally important to provide the employer with as much information as possible about your reason for absence at the earliest opportunity to enable the employer to make necessary cover arrangements. For example: a doctor advises on day one that s/he is unwell and unable to attend work, stating a probable return on day three. However by the afternoon of day two the doctor does not feel s/he will be fit to return to work on day three, then the doctor should contact the employer to provide an update and an indication as to a potential return date. Failure to update the employer in this way could potentially impact on your colleagues as they are expected to cover for the occasional brief, short term absence of a colleague (NB: a colleague is another doctor participating in the same rota or shift).
For more information, click here.
Junior Doctors – responsibility when asked to provide cover for absent colleagues / gaps on rota
When an employer asks you to provide short term cover for an absent colleague, consider your work, personal and private obligations and make a decision as to whether or not you are available to safely provide the cover. It is essential that you do not feel forced or coerced into providing such cover.
It is the BMA’s view that it is reasonable for the employer to ask doctors to cover for a short period of time in order to provide adequate time for the employer to arrange locum cover. However this should only be if the doctor can facilitate such a request on a voluntary basis. The BMA also has a view that the employer must be mindful that doctors have other responsibilities outside of work and may not be able to accommodate such a request. If the employer cannot obtain a locum, the colleagues who are able to and have agreed to provide cover should be remunerated appropriately. Anyone entering into such an arrangement with their employer should ensure that the arrangement has been agreed in writing before undertaking such activity.
In circumstances where cover is required for doctors on long term leave for example, evolvement from repetitive short term absences, maternity leave or a temporary vacant post, the employer shall be responsible for engaging a locum. An employer cannot expect those on the rota to provide cover giving the reason that the current banding for the rota permits increased activity, for example, if the rota is a Band 3 this does not give the employer the right to unilaterally increase individual workloads.
Whilst the employer should be aware of all vacancies or absences, especially those of a longer term nature, BMA would advise doctors in training to bring this information to the attention of the employer in writing (email) without delay to avoid any doubt.
In summary, you should not be put under any pressure when absent due to illness to arrange your own cover or repay the cover at a later date, nor should colleagues at work be put under pressure to provide short or long term cover for absent colleagues or gaps in rota, such an arrangement should be mutually agreed.
You can read more information and BMA guidance on your leave entitlements as a junior doctor and on rota gaps and providing cover.
If you’re a BMA member and encounter any difficulties around absence management and arrangements for cover, or have any queries regarding this issue, please contact BMA Northern Ireland on 028 9026 9666, or email [email protected], and ask to speak to a member of the Industrial Relations team.