Home > The Post > The Royal Mail Attendance Procedure

The Royal Mail Attendance Procedure

“Stage 3″: Illustration by Frank Stamp

At the Royal Mail you are sometimes made to come into work even when you are sick or injured.

They monitor your attendance. If you are off work more than a certain number of days they put you under threat of dismissal. It doesn’t matter how ill you are, they still threaten you.

If you are off work for sickness or injury more than three times in a year, or for more than three weeks in a row, you are given a warning. This is a Stage 1 warning. If you go over the limit a second time you are given another warning. This is a Stage 2 warning. If you exceed the limit for a third time you are given a Stage 3 warning and threatened with dismissal. After that you can’t afford to take time off from work no matter how severe the illness.

The Attendance Procedure works whether you are ill or not. All absences are assumed to be illnesses, but all illnesses, no matter how severe, count towards your absences. So a day off from work with a hangover is counted the same as a week off from work for a hernia operation; and a month off work after a heart attack will count the same as three separate days off for sheer laziness. Hernia operations and hangovers and heart attacks are all counted the same in the Royal Mail book of illnesses.

So say you have an accident and you’re off work for more than three weeks. At this point the office starts to ring you up asking when you will be back at work. They will ring you up daily, hassling you to come back to work. And no matter how ill you have been, you will get a warning when you do eventually come back.

You could come in on crutches, and you’d be given a warning. You could be bandaged up to the eyeballs. You could have coughed up your oesophagus. It makes no difference. You’ve been off work, so you will be warned. Three weeks off twice in a year and you’re up for dismissal, and that’s that.

We’ve all seen it. People who have had heart attacks or hernias, or some other major illness, crawling into work to avoid the warning, or hauled up before the “lino” (as we call the manager) and given a reprimand. People under severe stress, or with depression. People with broken arms or legs or twisted backs. People on medication, too drugged up to walk in a straight line, pleading for some understanding.

It’s no good protesting that you are ill. The lino loves his job. He will smile at you – sweetly, or gravely, or maliciously, depending on his personality – and say he’s sorry. But he’s not sorry really. He doesn’t have the choice, he’ll say, the computer has flagged you, and you have to be given a warning. No space for personal initiative here, or judgement, or an intelligent weighing up of the circumstances: you’ve had too much time off and you will be punished.

Also, one day off counts the same as a week. So if you’re off for one day you might as well take the week off. If you underestimate your illness and come back to work too soon, only to find you are still ill, or the illness recurs, and you take another day off, this will count as two absences, and the computer will flag it, and you’ll be one step nearer a warning.

The result of all of this is twofold. One: you will take a week off work even for the slightest illness. Two: you will sometimes have to go into work even if you are sick and contagious.

In other words, the Royal Mail would rather you came into work and make everyone else sick than allow the possibility that occasionally people might ring in sick and take a day off because the wife is feeling horny that morning.

Such is life in the modern Royal Mail.

  1. Allan Pinder
    November 21, 2012 at 11:42 am

    I must have some understanding managers then. I work as a postman in a Delivery Office and have been on sick after an operation since 25 September. In that time I’ve only had 1 call from work about my absence. But on the other hand I’ve kept them fully informed about my situation.
    You are right about the 1 day and 1 week being the same. I have taken extra time off over a cold, as it made sense to feel 100% and absence record was no different.

  2. November 21, 2012 at 12:05 pm

    Some managers are understanding, of course. It depends on the office. But they are entitled to harass you if they like, and I’ve seen this.

  3. michelle mcstein
    November 21, 2012 at 12:42 pm

    i have seen it too stage one chest infection , i was still on trial so no sick pay but you get the same punishment as people who get sick pay , stage two accident at work still given the warning no appeal at stage one or two so no chance to haveit heard by anyone one other than your own manager who may well have a bad case of the syndrome i call a bully , then because your so worried about the possibility of losing your job every day at work becomes a trial it causes stress whic in turn becomes severe depression , and your manager is aware that it is very serious and has included hospital admissions so here comes stage three which as we know which unlike the RTW interview (return to work) is called the RTU interview (return to unemployment) those words inevitably fill you with hope for a good outcome , sorry have to include a little sarcastic comment ! so great news the manager doing the RTU is none other than the promoted manager from your own office who is now the area manager , this is where you would usually sit back and realise the fact you have lost your job as no matter how hard you try and get a better working relationship with even your new manager it seems impossible , anyone in this position should fight its hard and there are lots of problems with it but none the less fighting it is the answer do not let anyone bully you into leaving or being forced out of your job by stress and depression , its hard and in my case was three long years of fighting to keep my job and recovering from such a long battle takes even longer but eventually you get your confidence in yourself back , i personally can now talk to a manager now without feeling sick , it may take a little longer to not be a little angry at the company i work for for allowing such a blatant abuse of power even though there were 12 grievences in an office of 60 staff over one manager , mine the only one upheld i should say but nevertheless a lot of very angry people , so anyone who is able should battle the system with every bit of strength they have .

    • Nick184
      November 22, 2012 at 7:51 pm

      Horrible story Michelle but as a CWU rep the first thing that jumps out at me is the stage issued for accident at work, that should never happen and doesn’t at my office. I am constantly told by managers that stage warnings have to be issued because the computer says so but I am constantly getting the rescinded. They are obliged to investigate the reasons for the stage but it is on their discretion whether they issue or not. I have also been told today that a new attendance procedure has been agreed and is due to be rolled out in the new year.
      Well done for fighting back against the bullying but I can’t help but feel your Union Rep/Branch should be doing more to address this and if they are ignoring grievances at office level then take it to division and above if need be. Maybe you yourself might look at becoming more active in the Union yourself as the Union is only as strong as it’s members and you sound like one strong lady.
      Good luck for the future

  4. November 21, 2012 at 1:04 pm

    Thanks Michelle, that’s a great story, and it shows that if you stand up for yourself you can succeed. The problem is, as you say, the company that allows such abuses to continue. The whole Attendance procedure is insane.

  5. cazza
    November 21, 2012 at 4:04 pm

    I have always said that RM should have an incentive bonus for those who do not go sick at all over a 12 month period of £100. They tried it before by putting everyone who didn’t go sick in a raffle for a chance to win a car but that isn’t a good enough incentive. The procedure does allow postmen to exploit it but on the flip side, barring serious illness or injury the managers think we are all exploiting the system all of the time hence warnings being given freely. This is why Union Reps should be in attendance in the interviews at all costs. Although it is not always possible to give mitigating circumstances for coughs, colds and sickness. it is possible to recognise mitigation to cases where the postie maybe suffering a disability {like Michelle above’s condition of depression} and other illnesses that could be covered by the Equality Act. Sometimes we make it too easy for managers to issue warnings because he/she has been instructed to by the powers that be. It is also important that they put in writing the justification for the issue not just that you have not met the standards. We all need a kick up the backside sometimes but managers abusing there power is happening far too often.

  6. stuart green
    November 21, 2012 at 5:28 pm

    So true having a hernia op and been told I’m to use my holiday.as if I go sick it triggers a stage 3!

  7. Steven Nikulak
    November 21, 2012 at 7:19 pm

    Talking about this reminds me of when this was instituted under Moya Greene in Canada. If the computer flagged you the Sup. had to do his/her job and talk to you. Here they worked on the assumption that everyone had a pattern of long weekends. I was hauled up for this, five occassions over three months I had been off for single days, and lets see how many of those were Monday or Fridays. None, ???? ‘Why’ my Sup. asks. Well, it usually takes a couple of days til you stress me out so much that I get depiltating migraines. Next time you get ‘your little headaches’ you have to come in or I’ll just suspend you for the day. A couple of weeks later I was at my sortation case, blurry eyed and not being able to sort very fast with one of my Migraines (diagnosed and medicated). Had to go to the Sup’s office as he wanted to know what was wrong with me. As he started to harrange me, I became nasiated, which is common with migraines, and I really did try to hit the waste bin, but he got splattered. His comment was that I should have stayed home if I was that sick. I informed him that since I was at work I would stay but that he should stick close to me ….. you know …. Just in case I had to puck again. Never had to worry about it again.

  8. Fossil
    November 21, 2012 at 9:39 pm

    So nothing seems to change. Its very disheartening to read that the situation I left many years ago may still exist. But should I be surprised? The attendance procedure in various forms has been around for donkeys years but I see that RM appears to have yet to grasp the fact that if it doesn’t matter whether an absence is one day or a week or even longer – it is one absence – anyone with a bit a savvy will take more time off. In my view it still, after all these years, doesn’t deal with the problem of malingerers but seems to assume that everyone is at it.

    Before the 80’s, absencies were dealt with on a fairly ad hoc basis laid out in the Postmaster’s Rules so those caused by the same illness perpetuated the time allowed to recover. A Doctor’s certificate generally meant you were at least covered against accusations of malingering. But the rules also meant that you could be almost encouraged to take sickness time off to increase the availablity of overtime. Then Maggie decided to tighten up the rules and RM started to get their act together. But the gradual development of the attendance procedure introduced many anomalies some of which appear to exist to this day.

    I am interested in the reference to the Equality Act which is since my time. It makes sense to find anything in law that clashes with the attendance procedure.

    Cazza, there is no way that financial incentives should be dangled in front of staff. Inciting them to attend work if they are ill, is irresponsible for all sorts of reasons and could result in some very unfair situations within an office. What if one of these people infected others? Colds affect individuals in different ways. People with bronchial or chest problems could be at serious risk. Although I agree that people should take a Union Rep in with them but of course they need to be a member first!

    Yes, I realise that something needs to be done but look at where the real problem lies. That is judging by the examples I read, with the imposition of the attendance procedure by some managers who might want to get rid of, punish, wind up or otherwise aggravate staff in their care. I use the word ‘care’ for a reason. As a UCW Rep for many years I often had to point out to managers that one of their primary responsibilities was the duty of care to their staff, in fact it used to be in the PO Instructions. Obviously many do but the pressures from above used to make some lose sight of this fact. A threat to take out a grievance on this basis sometimes caused a change of heart or at least the chance for them to justify a bit of leniency. It was a useful tool because if successful I think it went on the managers’ record.

    Perhaps RM should look back to the early 1900’s when tuberculosis, ‘the White Death’, was rampant and killing postmen especially in the larger offices. Contagion in sorting offices is not a new thing. What happened is recorded in the history of the Benenden Healhcare Society (www.benenden.org.uk) which in 1905, pre-NHS, started out as the Post Office Sanatorium Society specifically to provide treatment, saving postmen’s lives and educating the PO about the many dangers of contagion within offices. (The Society is still going strong albeit now after the demise of TB offering much more diverse healthcare assistance, worth every penny of the small subscription and a worthwile backup if the NHS lets you down).

    One question comes to mind although I may have got it wrong. I read somewhere that Postal Staff are now employed by an agency or another company who deal with HR. How does this work if operational managers are responsible for the AP?

    Best of luck to you all and may your involvement with the AP be minimal.

  9. mark
    November 22, 2012 at 1:44 am

    Not been off in 6 years

    • Fossil
      November 22, 2012 at 8:54 am

      I recall that a very healthy colleague took the same stance until he rode his bike into a hole in the road in the dark and spent months off work trying to get back on his feet. I trust your luck – because that is what it is – won’t run out.

  10. TeeferTiger
    November 22, 2012 at 4:35 pm

    Stages 1 and 2 are issued at a manager’s discretion. However, if they don’t issue them, the DSM contacts them demanding to know why because they look at the figures of the stages that are issued or not and say that the ones not being issued are too high (i.e. they exist). So, in fairness, it’s not up to manager’s discretion because they get hounded by DSMs to issue them regardless of the illness.

  11. November 23, 2012 at 10:41 am

    I had this debate with many a manager when I was at royal mail, both for myself and for others. always frustrated me and many a time the manager would agree with me. I was lucky at my office. we had some managers that would do their best not to issue warnings, we also had one muppet that issued 100% (tosser that he is..oh how Id love to name and shame). None of that nonsense for me anymore though.

  12. jim
    November 26, 2012 at 3:58 pm

    the attendance procedure has exceptions for accident on duty for which you were not responsable for and disabilty discrimination act coverage. as was said 1 and 2 are at the managers discretion but you do get the ones who enjoy issuing everything but most silly stages get struck down at stage 3 appeal. ive worked for royal mail and found most managers in the office i was at to be fair and helpful and i know a few people who through disability ie epilepsy etc keep getting their stage 1 not issued due to dda. i think it depends on office and manager

    • Fossil
      November 27, 2012 at 8:37 am

      Jim, that sounds like a step in the right direction and you are exactly correct that it depends on the office culture and the manager which is exactly what the procedure is supposed to prevent.

      Most of this type of problem I encountered were in large offices where most of the junior managers were ambitious and assumed that having a reputation for being ‘hard but fair’ was good for their CV. In one memorable case we were able to get the figures and prove that a particular manager was acting in a totally different manner to many of the remainder. He was made to retrain and to my delight he was put on a course I was the CWU admin for. Boy, we had a lot of fun with him. However, it sounds as if the current procedure is better if it specifically includes discretion for accidents on duty etc. Some of the new law introduced since I retired has presumably improved the situation.

      Way back, our District Headpostmaster was inclined to tick off managers if they were acting outside the spirit of the attendance agreement. Mostly because he was the lead for RM during some of the negotiations back in the 90’s. Unfortunately his HR Director was a total a*******e and supported every one of the managers almost without exception so by the time a case reached him we knew a tribunal was inevitable.

      From what you are saying some of the areas where a manager’s interpretation – not discretion, which is very different – seems to have been identified and dealt with. I do hope so because local managers’ interpretations of the AP especially in its early days was always difficult and took time to sort out, meanwhile the person who was the subject suffered as a result.

  13. Sarah
    December 20, 2012 at 9:49 pm

    So in the event of the norovirus I shall blame the postie for continuing to deliver with the vomiting bug!

    • Fossil
      December 22, 2012 at 2:24 pm

      We got blamed for many things but the norovirus is new enough not to have been my fault! Honest -;)

      In the early 1900’s when TB was rife, sorting offices were breeding grounds for the disease and it was killing postal staff by the hundreds. If the norovirus is spread by close contact between individuals while handling items and with little hygiene such as washing hands then a sorting office is right up there with the other danger zones!

  14. pfisajoke
    February 10, 2013 at 9:51 am

    I work for pf and its more a case if your willing to lick a*** you can do what ever you please, i had no sick for 7 years, took two weeks off due to a back problem thats been caused through my dutie and walked straight into a stage 1, all policys that are in place (hr/atos) ect ect are only there to make the company look good, in my opinion and from what ive seen the company do not care about its staff health at all, were all just numbers.

  15. Sarah
    February 22, 2013 at 3:49 pm

    I’m currently fighting my own stage 3 battle…

  16. A. Manager
    March 7, 2013 at 8:30 pm

    If the standards are so harsh and unachievable then why did the CWU agree them in the first place? The same standards apply to your manager too. Royal Mail understands that people will be sick from work at some point, that is why the procedure is broken in to 3 stages and dismissal only considered at the third stage. People who have a good sick record and get issued a stage tend to be pissed off but get over it and generally come off after the warning period with very few problems. If managers treated them differentley they’d get accused of favouritism or of being inconsistent. Maybe RM should only pay statutory sick pay of £85 a week or , like Tesco, pay nothing for the first 3 days of sick leave and see what that does to absence records? Then we’d all moan about that I suppose. Remember what side your bread is buttered, we aint got it so bad.

    • March 8, 2013 at 10:02 am

      I don’t know why they agreed to them and personally think they shouldn’t have. I’ve never known a situation where you can be hauled into the office for being sick before and, in fact, the Royal Mail must agree that it’s unfair as there is a new attendance procedure being put in place.

  17. mark
    March 20, 2013 at 8:40 pm

    hi just had my 8 weeks notice given yesterday last working day 6th may 2013..had a accident while on stage 1 cycling my hobby)35 days sick so issused stage 2 no appeal manager said…then went 13 months without sick day..then had 2 days off and a week later 1 day of..which set stage 3 had appeal ..didn t win got 8 weeks notice..then was told that when i had my stage 2 warning(6 weeks after being back at work)my stage 2 started from the interview date.not 6 weeks earlier when i came back to work..last 26 months 3 absences 35 days cycling accident..2 days gums stiched up 1 day sickness..so if my interview was done straight away after my cycling accident i would nt be on a stage warning at all..

    • March 21, 2013 at 7:18 am

      Mark, you must have a pretty useless rep to have allowed your case to go this far. Will you consider going to tribunal over unfair dismissal?

  18. mark
    March 21, 2013 at 9:18 pm

    yeah going to appeal against my sacking.. area rep ,told me divsional rep taking over case..

    • March 22, 2013 at 7:23 am

      Glad to hear it and good luck with the appeal. Let me know what happens.

      • mark
        May 10, 2013 at 8:48 pm

        got my appeal decision today..was amazing got the sack,loved the reasons they decided to sack me lol!!! but was to be expected with royalmail paying the hr management team there wages..can t wait for a proper tribunal now..next step unfair dismissal court,were people know what they are doing instead of being puppets!!but weres theres a bad thing a good thing comes out of this!!i wish all the posties out there all the best and good luck in the future!! watch out for national news papers in about 4 months when alls done and dusted!!

  19. M Plowman
    May 25, 2013 at 11:28 am

    I have and still do experience many of the problems highlighted before, and have found that a growing problem is the way in which ATOS supports the employer rather than the employee in most cases. I suppose this is to be expected as they are paid very well by the employer for their services. Occupational Health Advisers should be totally un-biased and not at all under pressure, brought to bear by financial or other partnerships.
    If the CWU were to concentrate more on the introduction of a neutral body to oversee employee health advise/issues, the attendance procedure (recently revised) and the ambiguity within it would be a far fairer and more useful tool.
    In my experience as both a rep and long serving member of staff, most managers use referrals to ATOS as support for their opinion, in the knowledge that ATOS have a vested interest in giving such support.
    To this end I believe that ATOS now use advisers as apposed to qualified clinicians, presumably because the latter are more morally conscious and therefore likely to be sympathetic where justified?

  20. nick
    October 25, 2013 at 7:53 pm

    hi i had an accident at work (royal mail) on monday 21st oct 2013. i was delivering mail to customers house in the pouring rain with a peaked hat on and my hood up. i walked into scaffolding and cut my head open and had to be taken to a+e. obviously i did not intend this to happen it was an accident it was pelting it down with rain so i had my head down. management not very sympathetic and all i get from my(lino) is in his opinion it was my fault, and i am now being asked to sign the accident report, but i do not agree to the comments my (lino) has put. so now i dont know if i can refuse to sign it or if they can force me.

    • October 25, 2013 at 9:41 pm

      You do not have to sign anything. No one can force you. You need someone to represent you when you see the lino. Speak to your rep, of if there is no rep, speak to the branch, or failing that, go to a law clinic and get advice. Most university law departments will have a law clinic where you can get free legal advice. It was not your fault. It was an accident at work. That is what needs to be written on the report. Let me know what happens. Roy.

  21. samie
    January 15, 2014 at 3:42 pm

    will i recieve sick pay from royal mail iof i have been there 8 weeks?

  22. Jed
    February 5, 2014 at 1:31 pm

    Hi, I’ve been with Royal Mail since January 2013. I had one day off in October 2013 due to a 24 hour sickness bug and now as of February 2014 I have a flu type virus which I’ve had 2 days off sick. I feel so guilty for having time off but there’s now way I can go out on a delivery feeling this rough and weak. Can you tell me how many more days I can have off this year until I trigger a stage 1? It seems some people in our office can have weeks off and not trigger any stages, then there’s those who aren’t pally with the managers who get issued one after just a few days.

    • Another-Manager
      June 12, 2014 at 2:05 pm

      Jed, I take it you are no longer a trialist as u have been at RM for over 12 months now. (2 absences would have triggered as a trialist within 6 months) As a non trialist you need to go 12 months without getting 4 seperate absences or 14 days in total. As you have only had two absences totalling 3 days you have 10 days before 11th day will trigger. Or 2 more absences will trigger, whichever comes first before October 2014.

      Samie, unfortunately you dont. Not until you have been employed for 12 months.

      An RTU is not a ‘return to unemployment’ although that comment made me laugh!! It’s ‘Reasons to urge’ meaning RM needs reasons from you why you should keep your job. Thats when all the previous warnings should be looked at in detail – although managers are told to use their own decretion, the DSM always wants you to explain to him why you feel you should not issue. Therefore putting pressure on ALL managers to just issue regardless which is wrong. The DOM is then put under the same pressure with Stage 3’s. Nice way of running a business, managers not allowed to actually manage yet have to take the flack, shouts and bullying tactics when things go tits up. I call my wages ‘Puppet Payments’ cause that’s all I am really.

  23. March 11, 2014 at 12:02 pm

    hi ive been an official employee with royal mail since 3rd jan 14 ive recently returned home after a 2 week stay in hospital for stomach surgery i am expecting to be off work 4 to 6 wks due to my stomach and back muscels been poked and prodded during surgery also i am still experencing bowell and bladder problems i work for parcel force and my job reqires me on a daily basis to lift above and beyond the 25kg safe limit as set out by health and safty if im forced back to work before im fully fit and i have any reocurring symtoms what happens then

  24. Jennifer Baker
    July 15, 2014 at 12:01 pm

    Surely the Disability Act would cover some of the illnesses and the Royal Mail would have a hard job to sack you under this Act!

    • Gary
      July 17, 2014 at 9:45 pm

      Unfortunately the DDA is now encompassed within the Equality Act which is a much more ambiguous piece of legislation, and for that reason OH Assist (ATOS) advisers, are almost always of the opinion that whomever they are reporting on is not covered.
      The fact is, that most would be covered in some way shape or form, purely because of the broadness of this act.
      Ultimately it is for the judiciary to make the call, on the merits of each individuals circumstances, though this means going to either a tribunal or court and both can be expensive, especially the later.
      It would be worth contacting the CWU legal helpline for advise.
      In any case it is not as easy to sack somebody for their sickness as Royal Mail would have you believe. As long as your sickness can be proved to be bonafide ie; covered by a doctors certificate, hospitalisation or you have a long term health problem that impacts on your everyday life.

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