A hospital trust acted unlawfully in attempting to stop pay progressions for staff claiming sickness leave, an employment tribunal has found.
Central Manchester NHS Foundation Trust had sought to deny incremental pay rises to 83 staff members who had claimed more than 18 days sick leave in a year.
The case against the trust was brought jointly by three unions: the Royal College of Nursing, Unite and Unison. The challenge was also supported by the Royal College of Midwives.
The ruling, announced today, will affect all staff on the national AfC pay deal at the trust. Three nurses were among the test cases cited in the ruling.
Band 6 nurse Susan Proctor saw her salary held down after a bout of retrocaecal appendicitis which needed emergency surgery. Charge nurse Karl Taylor had to take time off due to a foot injury which left him unable to stand or walk for long periods.
Band 5 nurse Doreen Allet was penalised after four occasions of absence due to vomiting and abdominal pain which led to biopsies and a coloscopy.
Meanwhile, medical technical officer Sandra Kaye, who had been the victim of an unprovoked physical assault, was denied a pay rise despite attempting to return to work before the 18-day threshold took effect. She had been sent home by the trust’s occupational health nurse as being unfit to work.
The tribunal concluded that, while incremental rises could be deferred if an employee’s performance was not satisfactory, this did not include sickness absence and the trust’s actions amounted to “a series of unlawful deductions” from [the claimants’] pay”.
Unison regional head of health Paul Foley said: “This is a victory for fairness. This decision means that other trusts will not be able to penalise health workers in a similar way.
“We hope this Manchester hospital trust now drops any further legal challenges, honours its obligations to pay incremental rises, and gets back to the day job of providing healthcare.”
He added that nurses were more likely to become unwell as they were often surrounded by ill people. “Many health jobs are also very physical – lifting and moving patients on an hourly basis - the stresses and strains can cause injuries that people need time off to recover from,” he said.
RCN chief executive and general secretary Peter Carter said: “We feel it is outrageous that an employer should attempt to withhold payments simply because a member of staff is sick.
“If unchallenged, this decision by Central Manchester Foundation Trust could have had major repercussions for NHS staff across the UK. This decision sends a clear and decisive message that employers must adhere to the agreed terms and conditions.”
Jon Skewes, RCM director of employment relations, said the college welcomed the “ground-breaking judgement”.
He added: “Central Manchester chose to unilaterally impose their policy on sickness absence against the negotiated contract (Agenda for Change) for NHS staff and have been clearly found to be acting illegally by the tribunal.
“NHS trusts and the government need to work proactively with NHS unions and not seek to impose sweeping and draconian cuts on overworked and overstretched NHS staff.”
A trust spokeswoman said: “The incremental pay progression policy was introduced in November 2010 as one of a number of initiatives for safeguarding the employment of permanent staff, to reduce the use of bank and agency staff, and to ensure the continued delivery of high quality care to patients.
“Whilst the policy was in force there was a significant reduction in absence levels and a substantial increase in staff compliance with appraisals and mandatory training.
“In light of this judgement the policy will be withdrawn.”