April 22, 2015

Cracking down on employee absence

As a country, we lose 131 million working days and £15 billion every year from sickness absence, according to recent figures.

This is clearly a huge problem and employers should take whatever steps they can tomanage both short-term and long-term absences effectively.

Absences of 4 weeks or more is classed as a period of ‘long-term’ absence.  It is estimated that long-term sickness absence makes up 20% of all total absences and 70% of the cost to employers.

Steps to Managing Sickness Absence…

The following measures can be taken by employers to manage absence in the workplace more effectively:

1. Measure all periods of absence to discover:

  • How much time is being lost as a consequence of sickness
  • Where absence occurs most
  • How often individual employees are absent

2. Monitor each absence by:

  • Keeping records of individual periods of sickness absence
  • Having accurate records that show individual instances of absence, together with the duration, the reason for absence and where in the organisation the employee works
  • Carrying out a return to work interview with employees following each period of absence
  • Ensuring that records can easily be analysed by section or department, month and year
  • Assuring staff that any sensitive personal data will only be kept for as long as necessary and will only be accessed by named individuals
  • Making sure that absence measurement figures show the scale and nature of any absence problem and which category of absence is involved. For example: Long term sickness / Short term certificated or uncertified sickness / Unauthorised absence and lateness

3.  Deal with long-term sickness by:

  • Discussing the absence with the employee concerned
  • Considering alternative work or working arrangements where this is possible
  • Deciding whether the job can be covered by other employees or temporary replacements and how long the job can be kept open
  • Seeking medical opinions from the employee’s GP/Occupational Health

It is important that employers consider the provisions set out in the Equality Act 2010 when dealing with long-term absences.

For example, for an employee with a disability, the employer must consider making workplace adaptations before dismissing them as this could enable the individual to return to work.

Government Plans to Tackle Sickness Absence

An independent review of the current sickness absence system conducted in 2011, found that the government spends around £13 billion a year on health-related benefits.

As a result of the review, the government has pledged to establish a Health and Work Assessment and Advisory Service to provide state-funded occupational health assessments of employees who are off sick for four or more weeks (e.g. those who are absent long term).

It is anticipated that the new scheme could save employers up to £165 million a year in statutory sick pay and associated costs and increase economic output by up to £900 million a year.

In addition, the government plan to:

  • Abolish record-keeping obligations for statutory sick pay to allow employers to keep records in a less prescriptive manner for a shorter period of time.
  • Abolish the Percentage Threshold Scheme which compensates employers for higher/than/average sickness absence (as this reduces incentives to manage absence).

It is hoped that the new Health and Work Assessment Advisory Service will be introduced by the end of next year at the latest.

The service is anticipated to cost between £25 million and £50 million, although the benefit to the Exchequer will be in the region of £100 million and £215 million. The new service will be aligned with social security benefits and employees will be forced to engage with the assessment process or have their medical certificates stopped.

Further Advice

Our Advice Line is on hand to provide support and advice regarding this or any other employment-related issue.  Please contact us to find out more. You can also read our Employee Absence Whitepaper.

By Stephen Johnson

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