Managing sickness and absence

Latest figures from the Office of National Statistics suggest that long-term sickness is at a record high.

Are you 100% confident that your sickness and absence policy is effective?

Managing Absence Effectively

Implementing procedures which establish a fair and consistent process for absence is one way to help identify repeat offenders, as well as deter other employees from not turning up to work. For the majority of employees, this process directly influences their decision “to attend or not to attend” work. As part of a good absence policy, it should define the process both employees and employers should:

  • Set out the time period employees have to inform their manager of their incapacity to work. Some employers request this one day before, others say within one hour of the employee’s normal start time – it’s up to you.
  • Request employees to call in sick over the phone. If they’re unable to do so themselves, someone needs to do it on their behalf.
  • Ask employees who call in sick what type of illness they have and their predicted return date.
  • Conduct a back to work interview – regardless of how long they’ve been off. Back to work interviews can act as a deterrent, in that employees will be less likely to take time off if they have to formally sit and chat about the reason of absence. If possible, arrange the return to work interview to take place on the employee’s first day back.

Employers need to be able to respond flexibly to a particular individual’s circumstances (e.g. long serving employee with no absence, but this year they’re having a period of bad health) and take into account any potential ‘discrimination’ issues connected with the absences.

Managing short-term sickness

We’ve all experienced it one time or another during our working life – “I’m not feeling too good today, can I be bothered to go to work or not?” and levels of short-term absence in a business depend on each individual’s answer to this question. With some employees, an employer can never do enough to get them to choose the first option. In these cases, monitor the absences, record the details, hold return to work interviews, and when the absence level becomes unsatisfactory, take disciplinary action. You should then address any attendance problems and/or conspicuous absence patterns and once the interview has finished, you should then document everything that has been discussed in writing.

Managing long-term sickness

Long-term sickness absence can also affect the business and knowing when to take action or decide that the employment can no longer continue is a fine balancing act. Once an employee has run out of Statutory Sick Pay (SSP), it is seen as an easy option to just ignore them on the basis they are unlikely to come back to work but aren’t costing the business anything. However, they remain an employee accruing employment rights such as the right to paid holidays, so it’s important to take action to identify if and when they are likely to return to work, and if not then when might it be appropriate to terminate their employment. In such circumstances, you will always be advised that, before any ultimatum can be set on a return to work date or date for dismissal, you will need to have followed a fair procedure. This will include having regular welfare meetings with the employee and being in contact with the employee throughout their absence, not just when their SSP runs out.

Should you wish to discuss this subject, contact 121 HR Solutions to discuss further on 0800 9995 121.

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