Managing Sickness Absence in the Workplace

Nearly all of us are unwell at some point in our working life – it can’t be helped, and our starting point shouldn’t be to expect nobody to ever be off sick nor should you think less of an employee…

Blog26th Apr 2022

Nearly all of us are unwell at some point in our working life – it can’t be helped, and our starting point shouldn’t be to expect nobody to ever be off sick nor should you think less of an employee who has taken time out for health reasons.

But what happens when the occasional day off or odd bout of sickness turns into something more regular? How do you best manage these situations?

When should you be concerned about an employee’s absence levels?

There’s no exact answer to this and it will vary depending on an employee’s personal circumstances and their health. The management of absence is not to decide whether absences are genuine but to understand the impact of the absence on the other people in the team and the business operation itself and to help the employee reduce the amount of time they’re taking off sick.

The most common issues are those employees who more regularly and repeatedly take off 1 or 2 days as sick leave, with no underlying cause or specific health condition. You may see a pattern in their absence levels, such as the day of absence being always a Friday or a Monday, for example.

Any situation where the sickness levels are impacting the running of the business or the workload of the team should be evaluated to assess whether further discussions need to be had with the employee.

What legal considerations should you be aware of?

The key law to be aware of is the Equality Act 2010 and this sets out 7 ‘protected characteristics’, that an employer must ensure they do not discriminate against with their employees. One of these characteristics is disability and is the specific one where managing absence is concerned. It’s important to remember that disability is a broad definition and many conditions – both mental and physical – would be considered to be covered under the legislation.

It is essential that all employees are treated equally and fairly. Record all absences for all employees, this will give you a good objective indication of when one person may have increased absence levels. You should also ensure your employment contracts include a clause in respect of sickness absence and how much, if any, company sick pay an employee is entitled to. Don’t forget that even if you don’t offer company sick pay, you must ensure you pay statutory sick pay (SSP) in accordance with current legislation.

How do you manage an employee with increased levels of absence?

One of the key tools to help manage sickness absence is to ensure you have a comprehensive sickness absence policy in place. Like any company policy, this will set out how sickness absence is recorded and managed within your business. It should also include details around short and long term absence and the trigger points where further focus may be placed on an individual’s sickness absence levels. Regardless of any policy in place, if you have concerns about an employee, the first thing you should do is to hold a meeting with the individual and discuss your concerns. An employee is not obliged to tell you the reason for their absence but you should demonstrate your support for their situation and try to understand more about the reasons and how you can help facilitate a reduction in absence levels.

Try to work with the person to establish a plan to move forwards, it is much easier to resolve these type of situations if the employee understands that you are supportive of their health and personal circumstances. Other tools that you may wish to consider include writing to an individual’s doctor or sending them to an Occupational Health specialist to review their health and ability to work. Both of these require the consent of the employee and it is recommended that you seek advice if you’re considering this route and you do not have experience of these types of situations.

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