Sickness Absence Management

sickness absence management

Everyone gets sick occasionally. No matter how well you look after your health, sooner or later, you’ll fall ill and need a day off work. Maybe even more than one. This is every employee’s right.

But managing sickness absence is a big deal if you’re an employer. There are issues surrounding sickness absence management.

Firstly, there are a myriad of health and safety laws and workers’ rights legislation you need to comply with. Employers must ensure they comply with the Employment Rights Act, Equality Act and the Health and Safety at Work etc Act.

Secondly, there’s maintaining the delicate balance between supporting employees with health problems and looking out for your business.

What if a key worker develops a long-term illness? What if an employee is sick but wants to return to work early? What if someone falls ill during their probation period? Should you ask for an employee’s medical records? Can you dismiss a sick employee who can no longer perform their duties? When dealing with ill employees, things can get complicated fast.

Sickness absence management is much more than ensuring you get a doctor’s note.

How to Manage Sickness Absence

Government figures show that UK workers take more sick days than ever. In 2022/2023, 35.2 million working days were lost in the UK because of illness and injury, a new record high recently reported by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE).

Missed workdays due to illness cost the UK economy £43 billion annually. If you run a small business, you’re losing around £3,000 a year due to sickness absence, according to the  Federation of Small Businesses (FSB). That’s not even getting into what it could cost you if you are brought up in front of an employment tribunal.

So, it makes sense to develop an innovative and effective sickness absence system for any small business. But what does this entail exactly?

Absence Management Training

Our absence management training course explores the causes and factors contributing to sickness absence in the workplace. It equips managers and HR professionals with skills to manage sickness absence effectively and minimise its occurrence.

Implement Effective Absence Management Procedures

Robust sickness absence management will help you to deal with ill employees compassionately and protect your bottom line.

You should ensure your business has a clear set of policies and procedures covering illness-related absences. Your policies and procedures should set your expected attendance standards and inform employees of their responsibilities and rights.

Your absence management procedures should cover the following:

  • Notification requirements – Who do employees need to notify about absences and when do they need to do so
  • Evidence of incapacity – Under what circumstances a Statement of Fitness for Work is needed and when a self-certificate is sufficient
  • When and if the employer can request a medical examination and report
  • Details on contractual sick pay and statutory sick pay
  • Information on absence management meetings and return-to-work interviews
  • What adjustment can be made to help an employee return to work
  • Dismissal procedures on grounds of capability
  • Procedures for an appeal against a dismissal notice

Policies alone aren’t enough to manage sickness absence effectively. You should also take steps to protect employee health and ensure open lines of communication.

Investigate the Cause or Reason for the Absence

When an employee calls in sick, you must do more than just take them at their word. You’ll need to find out the nature of the illness, its severity, and how long the employee expects to be sick. You can ask for a self-certification form if an employee expects to be sick for a week or less. If it is longer than a week, the employee must provide you with a Statement of Fitness for Work (fit note).

Maintain Contact with Employees

It’s a good idea to stay in touch with any employee who is off sick. But be careful to balance your need for the employee to return to work with concern for their welfare. Communication during an illness can help employees feel supported and secure in knowing their job awaits them. If you overstep your bounds, however, you’ll look uncaring and demanding.

Conduct Return-to-Work Interviews

When an employee returns after a long-term or short-term illness, a return-to-work interview should be conducted. Return-to-work interviews don’t have to be overly formal and can provide managers with helpful information. There may be a work-related reason for the illness, or an employee may require additional support on their return.

work-related injuries

Train Line Managers

Your line managers must be trained thoroughly on the business’ sickness absence policies and procedures. They’ll need to know their responsibilities, how to act on any doctor’s advice, and what steps they can take to support employees after and during an illness.

Line managers also need to know how to manage cases of long-term illness, deal with occupational health services, and when to impose disciplinary measures. They should have a good understanding of legal issues surrounding sickness absence, such as disability discrimination issues.

Retain Records of All Contact Made

Keep a precise and accurate record of all contact with employees during their illness. All emails, conversations, and voicemails should be recorded and logged. Any medical certificates provided will also need to be kept. Suppose the employee is dismissed for grounds relating to their illness. These records will prove you acted per the law. Records should be kept in strict compliance with the Data Protection Act 2018.

Obtain Consent to Release Medical Records

Suppose a severe illness causes an employee to be absent for a long time – you must obtain medical records. Before doing so, you’ll need the employee’s consent. This requires you to send a notification in writing to the employee.

Create a Return-to-Work Plan

If an employee has been off sick for a prolonged period, you may need to develop a return-to-work plan. The plan will have to take into consideration the employee’s circumstances. You may require the opinion of medical professionals and take steps to prevent a claim of disability discrimination.

Dismissal Due to Sickness Absence

A long-term sickness can cause permanent damage to a person’s health. If an employer believes an employee can no longer perform their duties, they must start dismissal proceedings. Suppose no reasonable adjustments can be made to the working environment to accommodate the employee. In that case, you may have grounds to dismiss them.

Dismissing a person due to illness can be complicated. It’s highly advisable to seek professional advice from a medical practitioner and obtain an occupational health assessment. You may also wish to consult an employment lawyer to ensure you act fairly and legally.

Learn More About Sickness Absence Management

Staying on top of surrounding sickness absence management is super important if you’re a manager or run your own business. Dealing with illness-related absences might seem like a run-of-the-mill responsibility. But it’s really not. If you don’t handle them correctly, staff sick days could cost your business dearly.

Our Absence Management Training course will teach you the essentials of managing sickness absence.

Sign up today and learn how to care for your team and business.

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