Sickness Absence Policy Management

We are often contacted by businesses concerned about the level of sickness absence in their organisation and the associated cost to the business.  The solution to this is not always to cut sick pay or take formal action against employees, it is usually about managing and implementing your sickness absence policy at an early stage and keeping lines of communication open.

Let us consider a scenario where an employee calls in sick due to stress and is signed off by their GP for 4 weeks.  What do you do? Ignore them – they will come back after a few weeks and you can sort it out then?  What about that old sickness absence management policy someone drafted a few years ago but no one uses?

The worst thing you can do is ignore them.  The stress may be work related and a grievance may be just around the corner.  Have you considered if they have a potential disability under the Equality Act?  This could well be related to an underlying condition such as depression which you weren’t aware of.  If that is the case then you have a duty to make reasonable adjustments to their role and to assist them with a return to work. If you ignore them in those circumstances then you are likely to face a Tribunal claim.

That old sickness management policy, if you have one, is important.  You should follow your policy and if you don’t have one make a plan about how you will proceed and communicate this to the employee.

If someone is off sick you need to contact them, not only to offer support but also to understand their condition and find out if there is anything you can do to assist their return.  If there is nothing you can do at that stage, confirm when you will contact them again.  If you have an employee on longer term sickness absence and the employee agrees, then a referral to Occupational Health or requesting opinion from their GP may assist in getting them back to work as soon as possible.  If that is not going to be possible then you can look at other sickness management options if necessary and take legal advice if you have not already done so.

There has been a raft of caselaw about sickness absence recently including holidays during sick leave.  Remember that the employees continue to accrue their holidays and are entitled to either take them on their return or receive pay for their holidays if their employment is brought to an end.

If you have the procedures for communication during those difficult times in place and follow them, this will hopefully get the employee back to work sooner and help you reduce issues, costs (and claims!).

If you need advice on how best to implement a sickness absence management policy or any other HR issue our employment solicitors are on hand to help.

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