December 17, 2014

How to manage employee absence

All companies must deal with sickness absence in a fair, consistent and sympathetic way, as each absence is different and requires individual handling.

Accurate monitoring of absence periods is essential with sickness absence being dealt with differently to absences not associated with ill health.

Companies should ensure all employees are aware of the sickness absence policy, with  a copy being available for easy reference, this can be carried out during induction and periodically during employment.

Employees should be advised of the details of the person they need to contact and the period of time prior to their start time by which they need to advise their work place.

Line managers are normally the best people for employees to contact initially, in order to ensure cover is provided during the employee’s absence.  Employees should be reminded of the way contact is made eg by telephone and not by text or chinese whispers.

Companies should hold back to work meetings with employees returning from sick leave to establish they are fit to return, and identify any reasonable adjustments that may be required, and identify any risks that may exist.  Identified risks can then be dealt with during a risk assessment.

This meeting can also identify any reason associated with work or personal issues which may be contributing to their sickness.  Such meetings are not disciplinary meetings and the discussions should be kept confidential between the employee and management.

In the absence of a medical note, it is the employee’s responsibility to advise the company daily of their sickness absence, with any medical note received being forwarded to payroll and the line manager being advised of the period of sickness covered by each medical note received.  Employees should be reminded that a medical note is required after an absence of 7 days.

If an employee is medically advised to have a phased return to work eg: reduced hours, reduced duties, this must be discussed with the employee and arrangements agreed.  The company can ask the employee to attend an occupational health appointment to identify any further advice and assistance which may be offered to the employee to assist their return to work full time.

However, some employees have frequent intermittent absence, which follow a pattern of short term absence lasting a few days at a time for  various minor illnesses.  In these incidences, accurate information must be maintained and advice can be sought from thecompany’s HR department and /or occupational health.

An informal approach may be carried out initially to discuss improving their attendance and identify any concerns they have which may be a cause for their absences.   If an employee’s attendance fails to improve, and no medical underlying problem can be identified, then the company may follow their disciplinary policy for issuing warnings.

When inviting an employee to a meeting to discuss their sickness absence they should be advised it is not a disciplinary and meetings be called consultations not hearings, and advise of cautions not sanctions and review periods not being called live warnings.  The employee should feel comfortable and not feel as though they are being told off.

Long term sickness absence is normally a period over four weeks, which is a continuous period where a medical condition has been identified.

Such employees should be referred to the occupational health advisor. A manager should keep regular contact with an employee on long term sick leave enquiring about their welfare, advising them of events taking place at work,  with notes of each occasion of contact being retained, as well as retaining copies of any correspondence by post.

The company can obtain the employees authority to contact their GP for a medical report to establish if and when the employee may be able to return to work, what duties they can carry out, any reasonable adjustments which may be required and whether or not the employee is disabled.

If the medical opinion is that the employee will not be able to return to work, or return within a reasonable period of time, and/or the company is unable to offer the adjustments, hours or work advised for the employee, then the company may consider terminating the employee’s employment.  In such an event, the company is required to discuss the situation with the employee before any decision is made.

Both pregnancy related  and disability related sickness should be treated correctly to avoid breaching the related regulations.

It is equally important for all employees, including management to understand their obligations with regards to sickness absence, to avoid any employee being unfairly treated, and to ensure the company follows the correct policy and practice.

As a result of any decision regarding disciplinary sanctions or dismissal against an employee concerning absence either intermittent or long term, the employee will have a right to appeal the decision issued.

Want a detailed overview? Check out our Employee Absence Whitepaper.

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