Dealing With Sickness Absence

It has been reported by the British Heart Foundation that more than 25% of the UK’s workforce have had a health problem that has lasted one year or longer. aspire cambridge understand that issues like this can be crippling for businesses, especially small and start-up businesses. As a business owner you need to fully understand how to deal with sickness absence to ensure you keep up with all your legal responsibilities but also maintain the success of your business and welfare of your employees.

Communication Is Key

If you identify that you have an employee who is taking too many days off and are on prolonged sickness absence from work, the first step is to keep the communication channels open. You need to understand why they are taking time off work and establish if their illness will affect their return to work. While the employee is off work on sickness absence, it is important to maintain regular contact with them, showing you care and also checking their progress. Even if an employee has been signed off work by their GP you can still remain in contact with them but you need to find the balance between welfare calls and potentially harassing your unwell employee! For example, to have a weekly call is acceptable but to call everyday if the person has knowingly been signed off for a month would be considered as excessive and unnecessary.

Sickness Absence Policy

It is important that you have a clear sickness absence policy in place so all employees are aware of the guidelines and steps that the employer will follow when dealing with sickness absence. Having a sickness absence policy will help ensure that fair and consistent behaviours are shown at all times, to all employees.

By having a policy in place you can be clear on areas like the reporting procedure, what is considered as long term sickness, what the business considered as an unacceptable level of absence, sickness pay, reasonable adjustments and much more.

Keep Track Of Sickness

For your business to be able to absenteeism effectively you will need to keep detailed records of absences; dates of sickness absence, the reason/s they gave, if any reasonable adjustments were needed, and how they were on their return to work. This management information can allow the business to identify trends and manage absence effectively e.g. an employee has taken five Mondays off due to sickness or the reason for the absences is always a migraine.

Short Term Sickness

If your business is incurring lots of short term sickness days you may want to add a section into your policy to allow your managers to consistently manage the problem.

Some examples of things you could include in your policy are:

  • You could introduce triggers which will allow the manager to have a meeting with the employee to explain they have reached an unacceptable level of absence, what they can do to improve their absence, can you do anything to help them improve their absence levels, explain that if no significant improvement is made they could face formal disciplinary action being taken against them.

An example of the trigger could be:

  • The fifth occasion of absence in a rolling 12 month period.
  • Two or more occasions of absence totalling more than 10 working days in a rolling 12 month period. The 10 working days trigger will be adjusted pro-rata for employees who work fewer than five days per week.
  • Over 14 continuous calendar days of absence.

You could use the Bradford Factor. This is a tool used for measuring employee absenteeism. It is presented as a means of dealing fairly with the employer-defined problem that many short absences are more disruptive to the employer’s business activities than a single long one. The formula‟ puts a lot of weight on individual absences, and it produces a score‟ over a reference period, using a very simple calculation:

Bradford Factor = Number of unrelated absence periods² x Days absent

Consider Being Flexible

If an employee needs prolonged time off then why not discuss the idea of flexible working with them, this way they can reduce their stress levels, arrange work around health appointments and work at times that suit them. It is important that you discuss this with the employee and make them aware of the flexible working policy to make the transition as easy as possible for everyone involved.

Evidence of Sickness

Employees can self-certify for up to 7 calendar days but if they are still absent from work on the 8th day they will need to provide you with a certificate from their GP called Fit Note. The GP will determine if either the employee is not fit for work or they could provide some short terms adjustments that could allow the employee to continue coming to work. If you cannot accommodate the adjustments the employee would default to not fit for work.

Interviews on Return

Many businesses complete return to work interviews when an employee returns from a period of sickness absence. It is essential that these ‘return to work interviews’ are handled sensitively so you can understand why the employee has been off and if they may be off again in the future. Again, this is a time to discuss that the employee is well enough to return to work and if they have any concerns about their current state of health that you need to be aware of.

Disability under the Equality Act

One of the protected characteristics under the Equality Act 2010 is disability. Your employee will be covered under this act if they have a physical or mental impairment that has a ‘substantial’ and ‘long-term’ negative effect on their ability to do normal daily activities. If you suspect that an employee with short or lomg term absence issues may be covered you are advised to take advice before taking any action.

Make sure that you follow the ACAS sickness absence guidelines, procedures and policies and that these are also contained in the staff handbook. If you fail to follow a formal process correctly this could lead to an employment tribunal claim being made against you and any compensation that is awarded being raised by 25%.

Sickness leave is a very sensitive matter for many employees, if you would like support dealing with short or long term sickness in your business then please feel free to contact one of our HR Consultants on 01223 855441 who will be happy to go through the steps with you.