February 5, 2020
Effective management of absence is one of the biggest challenges facing any employer and accurate measurement of employee absence, including the use of triggers and targets, is one of the main tools which can be used in this regard.
Every year 140 million working days are lost to sickness absence, the cost to employers in sick pay and associated costs is £9 billion a year.
How should you manage sickness absence?
Effective absence management involves finding a balance between supporting employees with health problems to stay in, or return to work. Ensuring that the employer’s business objectives are not compromised by repeated short term or long-term absence.
This can be achieved through a combination of clear and comprehensive absence management procedures, good communication and early intervention by line managers.
The main issues an employer will need to consider when dealing with sick employees include:
- Entitlement to SSP and/or contractual sick pay, including deciding whether qualifying conditions have been met. Many employers will have sickness policies which set out relevant qualifying conditions.
- The reason for absence, and whether it is genuine. This will entail ascertaining the true medical position and may involve seeking a medical report.
- Whether the incapacity has been caused by workplace factors such as stress, bullying or an accident at work.
- Whether the absence coincides with any periods of holiday.
- Whether the absence is related to a disability and whether any reasonable adjustments may need to be made.
- Considering whether the employee may be eligible for permanent health insurance or ill-health retirement.
- Whether dismissal is appropriate and, if so, ensuring a fair process is followed.
It is important to have adequate policies and procedures in place to deal with sickness absence. These policies should state clearly standards and attendance expected by employees and the process to be followed when reporting sickness absence.
If an employee is absent for a long period of time then an employer should seek further information from the employee or consider obtaining a medical report by referring to occupational health.
Absence Management Procedures should set out the respective rights and obligations of both the employer and employee and include details of:
- Notification of absence procedure requirements – when and whom employees should notify if unable to attend work;
- Evidence of Incapacity – when a self-certificate is required and when a fit note is required;
- The employer’s right to require an employee to attend for medical examination by a company doctor and to request a report from the employee’s doctor with the employee’s consent;
- Any contractual sick pay terms and statutory sick pay;
- Absence management meetings;
- Return to work interviews;
- The circumstances in which adjustments may be made to assist the employee to return to work;
- The Procedure considering dismissal on grounds of capability or a reference to the employer’s dismissals procedure; and
- Allow for appeals against termination.
Once medical evidence has been obtained and analysed, it may become necessary to consider dismissal if the person is no longer capable of carrying out their duties. Employers should issue warnings or cautions in accordance with their disciplinary or capability procedure prior to dismissal.
The following is a list of key considerations for an employer to consider when considering dismissal on grounds of capability:
- The nature of the employee’s illness and the job
- The prospects for that employee returning to work / duration of the illness
- The employee’s length of service.
- The treatment of other employees in the same or similar circumstances.
- The need for the employer’s business to cover the work of that employee.
- Has alternative employment been considered;
- Whether the illness/injury resulted from the conduct of the employer.
Key points to remember:
- Maintain contact with the employee, it is important to balance concern for the employee and their desire to return to work with distance to allow the employee to recuperate.
- If the employee has a disability, ensure to provide any reasonable adjustments which may be required.
- Conduct return to work interviews. These are effective tools for managing sickness absence and to ensure employees have full recovered and are able to return to their normal duties. It can also be an opening to discuss any underlying issues within the workplace which may be causing any sickness absence.
- Ensure line managers are effectively trained in sickness absence policies; maintaining records; the role of occupational health services; proactive measures to support employee health and wellbeing; the management of complex cases, including the disciplinary aspects of absence and associated legal issues such as potential disability discrimination issues, the operation (where applicable) of trigger points and return-to-work interview skills.
- Lastly, make sure comprehensive records are kept of any sickness absence or return to work interviews.