Special Circumstances Policy at WSCC

The county council’s Chief Executive sent out a broadcast email to all staff on 24th January announcing the new Special Circumstances Policy. The eye-catching headline of this announcement was the increase from 5 to 10 days of the potential paid special/compassionate leave staff can receive  in any rolling calendar year.

UNISON welcomes this increase in the discretionary provision within the policy.

There are though a number of things UNISON would like to bring to the attention of members:

  • The email says the policy was created with input from HR, the Culture Board and Staff Groups. UNISON was also involved, as we are with all policy development, though we are not mentioned.
  • As part of our involvement we pointed out a serious mistake. The policy draft indicated that staff would be expected to use their annual leave and TOIL before gaining access to special/compassionate leave. No other group picked up on this significant issue which would prevent access to special/compassionate leave. The policy was duly amended before being publicised.
  • UNISON, like some members of the Carers’ staff group, remains concerned about the potential for inconsistent application of the policy by different departments and different managers within departments.
  • The new policy actually weakens one important provision. Previously staff who needed time off to attend medical and dental appointments and could not use TOIL to do so due to working fixed rota patterns were granted paid time off. The policy has been changed to say that from now on they ‘may’ be granted this as paid time off, consciously leaving it to the discretion of the local manager. This weakens a key provision for staff who will be mostly low-paid women, working fixed rota patterns. We asked for the original wording to be reinstated, and this was declined.
  • The policy talks up the role of the staff groups and implies they provide the same range of services as a trade union. They do not, and in most cases do not wish to provide the union’s role of support, advocacy and representation. The staff groups should be there to provide corporate challenge on key equalities matters. The role of staff groups will become an even more important matter to be clear about if and when other policies are amended, as staff may be given unreasonable expectations that the staff groups will support them with capability, disciplinary, sickness or grievance meetings.

If you find you are refused paid time off to attend hospital, GP or dental appointments in future, please contact the branch office or your local representative for support. Feel free to do the same if you encounter difficulties with the application of the special/compassionate leave provisions.