Managing Sickness Absence in Northern Ireland

Managing Sickness Absence in Northern Ireland

Due to the current situation with Coronavirus/Covid-19, this event has been postponed until Autumn 2020. If you'd like to be notified when the new date is confirmed, please email

Legal Island and Worthingtons Solicitors (guest speaker Louise McAloon) will be holding a free webinar on Managing Sickness Absence from Work on Thursday 23rd April at 11.00am.

Register here:

The purpose of this event is to provide you with expert legal knowledge and practical advice on how to effectively manage sickness absence in your organisation. The event aims to:

  • Provide you with an update on the legal framework surrounding sickness absence management, including a case law round-up of pertinent cases which will influence your organisation’s sickness management processes.
  • Identify and help rectify common mistakes made by HR practitioners and line managers in handling complex sickness absence issues. You will receive expert advice on how HR practitioners should handle long term sickness absence, recurrent short periods of absence and absence caused by mental health problems.
  • Advise you on how HR and line managers should interact with medical experts in order to achieve the best possible outcome when handling an OH referral.
  • Help to seamlessly use early intervention and prevention to make a difference to people’s lives whilst producing a return on investment for the organisation.
  • Advise you on how HR should interact with medical experts in order to achieve the best possible outcome in managing sickness absence issues.
  • Give you the opportunity to pose your questions to our OH expert Dr Phil McCrea, Chief Medical Officer for BHSF.
  • Provide definitive explanations and answers to complex questions surrounding the calculation of holiday pay in relation to sickness absence and other forms of absence.

Why is this event important for you?

Managing sickness absence is an essential function for employers and effective management can help boost productivity and employee well-being.   Effective strategies should both help employees stay in work and return to work, but also provide support for them when they are unable to attend work. 

The CIPD reported in their Health and Well-Being at Work 2019 survey that the average level of employee absence in this reporting year (5.9 days per employee per year, or 2.6% of working time lost) was the lowest ever recorded. 

However, unsurprisingly, the CIPD reported that mental ill health is increasingly prevalent as a cause of both short-and long-term absence. 

Course overview/outline programme:

  • Absence Trends
  • A ‘Case Law Round Up’ reviewing key absence-related cases including cases at the Northern Ireland Industrial Tribunal
  • How to get the most from an OH referral
  • Use of early intervention and prevention to make a difference to people’s lives
  • Guidelines on Working Time Regulations in relation to absence management

More value from this event

In a new and innovative absence management technique developed by Dr Philip McCrea, he will outline how sickness absence can be more effectively managed from day one by utilising OH services early.   Employers will gain comprehensive and relevant information regarding illness to enable more effective absence management and manpower planning and employees have access to medical advice and guidance from day one of their illness.  Dr McCrea will outline, using a case study example, how this can lead to a significant reduction in sickness absence with an uplift in employee wellbeing. 

Your pack will include detailed and comprehensive notes to take away after the event, along with free templates, including a ‘Return to Work’ proforma and a sample OH referral letter.

This event is brought to you by Legal Island in association with Worthingtons Solicitors who will provide a free 30-minute legal consultation to delegates who sign up for a consultation on the day.

Who is it for?

This event is for HR professionals who are responsible for employment law matters and other managers who are involved in developing absence management strategies within their organisation.

Where and When?

9.15am - 4.30pm, Autumn 2020 at The Merchant Hotel, Belfast


In association with:

Worthingtons Solicitors



Closing Remarks & Questions


Introduction and Welcome

Rolanda Markey Learning and Development Services Officer at Legal-Island, takes you through the programme and what to expect from today’s event.


Absence Trends and Absence Management in Practice

Louise McAloon, Partner at Worthingtons Solicitors, sets out legal principles surrounding absence management and presents us with insights into current absence trends.

She will highlight learnings from absence management cases adjudicated by the Industrial Tribunal in 2019 and provide insight to the application of the law in practice across the public and private sectors in Northern Ireland including compliance with the disability discrimination legislation and the importance of absence management practices  e.g. Return to Work Interviews; review processes, use of trigger points and maintaining regular contact.


Case Law Round-Up

Niall McMullan, Partner at Worthingtons Solicitors, provides us with a review of key cases surrounding various forms of absence including disability-related issues and the obligation on employers to make reasonable adjustments.

Niall advises on how the outcome of these cases should influence the way in which employers handle absence related issues in the workplace. He will examine what reasonable adjustments employers need to consider in practice in relation to trigger points, review stages within absence management processes and facilitating an employee’s return to work where practicable without delay.


Refreshment Break & Networking


Holiday Pay and Sickness Absence

Toni Fitzgerald-Gunn, Associate Partner provides guidance on the calculation of holiday pay in relation to sickness absence. Issues surrounding the calculation of holiday pay have been clarified over the years, but one or two areas remain cloudy and will be addressed in this session.

Toni will go through a number of worked examples to assist in the understanding of this often-confusing subject and will delve into the Agnew holiday case to discuss more generally calculation of holiday pay to include overtime payments etc.


Q&A Session

This is your opportunity to pose your questions to our expert panel.


Lunch & Networking


Absence Management – the HR perspective

Joe Simpson, HR Manager with Antrim & Newtownabbey Borough Council shares his expertise and experience in tackling absence levels in the Council over the last number of years. With the rise in long term sick absence continuing to present challenges for the sector, Joe discusses the application of the Council’s policy in practice, the interaction between HR & employment lawyers and the practical measures and strategies that have proved effective for his team in tackling absence and improving and sustaining attendance.


The Difficult Questions

The Employment team at Worthingtons Solicitors discuss some of the more difficult questions that arise in practice when it comes to managing absence, e.g.

  • When does sickness absence become ‘long-term’?
  • What is ‘reasonable’ when it comes to maintaining contact during absence?
  • What about GDPR and the return to work interview?
  • At what point should I make a referral to Occupational Health?
  • What if an employee refuses to attend an Occupational health appointment or refuses to consent to the report being shared?
  • How should we handle concerns about the appropriateness of an employee’s actions or activities whilst on sick leave?


Refreshment Break & Networking


First Day Absence Reporting with OH Referrals

In a new and innovative absence management technique developed by Dr Philip McCrea, Chief Medical Officer at BHSF, he will outline how sickness absence can be more effectively managed from day one by utilizing OH services early.

Employers will gain comprehensive and relevant information regarding illness to enable more effective absence management and manpower planning with employees having access to medical advice and guidance from Day one of their illness.  Dr McCrea will outline, using a case study example, how this can lead to a significant reduction in sickness absence with an uplift in Employee wellbeing. 


Reducing Absence by Improving Health and Wellbeing

Improving the health and wellbeing of your workforce can significantly reduce absence levels, and at the same time improve employee retention, engagement and performance. In this session Dr Robert Kerr, from the Ulster Business School, Ulster University and Wellhub, will outline some cost-effective strategies to promote a healthier workplace. In particular, how to develop a holistic and sustainable model of wellbeing support for your organisation with little effort and little cost. Every attendee will receive a wellbeing toolkit enabling them to immediately start putting these ideas into practice.


Closing Remarks & Questions


Event Finish


"Relaxed informative session with opportunities to ask specific questions of the speakers. Content was relevant and delivered well."
Bonita McQuaid, HR Manager, Western Health & Social Care Trust

"The event was very well run with informative speakers with very comprehensive notes."
Alison Hiles, Senior HR Manager

"The information provided was up to date relevant and thought-provoking"
Gerard Glennon, Senior HR Officer, Northern Ireland Housing Executive

"The event was very well organized, and included a diverse range of speakers, from a range of backgrounds and perspectives"
David Johnston, Head of Attendance, Wellbeing and Diversity, PSNI

"Informative and engaging speakers"
Janice Wilson, HR Advisor, NIPSO


  • Rolanda Markey
    Rolanda Markey Learning and Development Services Officer
    Legal Island

    Rolanda Markey joined the Learning and Development team at Legal Island in March 2019.  Prior to that she worked for the Labour Relations Agency in Belfast for 17 years as an Employment Relations Officer working in both Advisory (good practice) Services and Dispute Resolution.  Before joining the Labour Relations Agency, she worked in Human Resources in a range of public and private sector organisations.  She is a Chartered Member of the CIPD and has an MSc in Occupational Psychology. 

  • Louise McAloon
    Louise McAloon Partner

    Louise heads up, leads and manages the employment department of Worthingtons Solicitors, which is currently the largest employment law practice in Northern Ireland. 

    With 14 years’ experience in employment law, Louise’s knowledge and attention to detail provides an expert and innovative approach that her clients value in relation to complex areas of litigation including Public Interest Disclosure, Equal Pay, Discrimination, Unfair Dismissal and Trade Union Activities.

  • Niall McMullan
    Niall McMullan Partner

    Niall qualified as a solicitor in 2008 and has been practising predominantly in employment law for 10 years.

    He provides on an ongoing basis, in-house training by way of seminars and workshops to clients on relevant and topical employment matters, for example GDPR and the legal effect its implementation will have. He internally advises clients on a number of significant restructuring matters, to include collective redundancies and Service Provision Changes.

  • Toni Fitzgerald-Gunn
    Toni Fitzgerald-Gunn Associate

    Toni has worked in the employment department of Worthingtons Solicitors for 10 years. She qualified as a solicitor in 2010, and has practiced in the area of employment law for 8 years.

    Toni has a keen interest and breadth of experience in both the pursuit and defence of equal pay claims and provides ongoing advice on TUPE, negotiations with trade unions and regularly advises on internal issues including investigations, grievances, disciplinary matters including suspension, industrial disputes, redundancy, and matters relating to pay including equal pay and holiday pay.

  • Joe Simpson
    Joe Simpson HR Manager
    Antrim & Newtownabbey Borough Council

    Joe has over 20 years experience in Human Resources and Organisation Development.

    Experience in industries, many global, such as engineering, manufacturing, food solutions/production, professional services and public sector with accountability for 500 – 12000 employees.

  • Dr Phil McCrea
    Dr Phil McCrea Chief Medical Officer

    Philip is an expert in occupational health and has 28 years' experience of working full-time in occupational health.

    Philip has been a consultant in occupational medicine to over 1,000 corporate clients and has extensive experience in the management of mental health issues in the workplace, specifically stress-related illness. Philip has acted as an expert on stress in 168 industrial tribunals and court appearances, more than any other occupational health practitioner in the UK.

  • Dr Robert Kerr
    Dr Robert Kerr Director

    Robert is a Senior Lecturer on Organisational Behaviour within the Ulster Business School, Ulster University. His academic research and enterprise-based activity through Wellhub has helped to create a significant positive impact on promoting and improving employee wellbeing across a variety of national and international organisations. This positive impact has been ranked as ‘world-leading or internationally excellent’ by the Research Excellence Framework (REF). Robert has also worked at a strategic level with leading authorities on health and wellbeing, including the Health and Safety Authorities in the UK and Republic of Ireland. This work has included the development and validation of a national tool for conducting psycho-social work audits.

Event details


9.15am - 4.30pm


23 April 2020


The Merchant Hotel, Belfast


Standard Rate: £495+VAT

Small Company/ Charity Standard Rate: £445+VAT

Save an additional £20 if you pay online when booking