Managing sickness in the workplace

Introduction to managing sickness in the workplace

From time to time, your employees are going to get ill and will need time off to recover. It is important that you have a policy in place when managing sickness in the workplace. This will make sure that sickness does not impact your overall productivity.

It is vital that you look after the health of your staff. If they need an hour or two away from work during the week for a dental or doctor’s appointment, let them. Employees can always make up the extra hours by coming in early or staying late another day.

If you are flexible with employees, you are much less likely to have lots of unexplained and unauthorised absences. Further, forcing them to take it off as unpaid leave or part of their holiday will not help create a loyal and motivated team, either.

There are different types of absence that you need to look out for when managing sickness in the workplace:
• Short term sickness – lasting less than a week.
• Long term illness – lasting several weeks or more.
• Unauthorised absence – time off not related to sickness or injury.

Sick leave and pay

Before you start to think about managing sickness in the workplace, you will need to consider what your policy is going to be on sick leave and pay.

If you let your employee know exactly what they will be getting paid and for how long, it can help alleviate some of their stress which can make it easier for them to recover.

In your employee contracts, you might have a section which sets out exactly what an employee is entitled to if they need to take extended time off. This may include statutory sick pay (SSP). If you do not have this written in to your contracts, you can take your advice from the government’s statutory sick pay calculator.

Short term sickness

Short term sickness in the workplace can be difficult to manage because it is hard to plan for. You should make sure all your employees know what your protocols are for reporting absence.

You might want to ask them to let you know within an hour of their normal start time what their illness is and when they think they will be able to come back to work. If the illness lasts more than seven days, you might want to ask them to provide a note from their doctor. This note will let you know if they are fit to return to work. Also, these notes can help you understand what jobs your employee will be able do when they return and whether they need to have lighter duties for a short period of time.

Long term illness

Sometimes, your employee might develop a mental or physical long-term illness that will require them to take extended time off. You will need to make sure that you are sensitive to their needs and do not add to their stress, as this will make it harder for them to get better. You would not want to use your holiday days to recover from an operation, so do not force your staff to either.

Managing sickness on a long-term basis can come in various forms. You might want to:

• assess if their colleagues can manage for a while without a replacement, or whether you need to hire someone on a temporary contract;
• keep in contact with them to let them know they have not been forgotten and to see how they are doing;
• give regular updates about their job and their pay, as knowing where they stand can be really helpful in reducing stress and their recovery time.

You may also want to chat with your employee and ask for permission to speak about:
• when they might be able to return to work;
• if they need an amended work routine;
• if they require flexible or part-time hours.

When managing sickness in the workplace, you should always make sure your employees know that you support them.

Return to work interview

Once your employee feels well enough to return, it is a good idea to invite them to a return to work interview, where you will have a chat with them about how they are feeling and their needs. If you create a list of questions that you ask each member of your team when they come back after an absence, you can help keep it standardised.

In your chat, you might want to ask about:
• how they are feeling;
• whether they spoke with a GP or pharmacist;
• if they’re on any medication; any support they may need;
• what they would like other employees to know about their absence;
• any reasonable adjustments that can be made to support the return to work.

More information about return to work interviews and best practices can be found via ACAS (the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service).

Unauthorised absence

Sometimes, unforeseen circumstances lead to an unauthorised absence from work. This is when an employee does not attend work and has not informed their organisation.

As an employer, you have a duty of care to your employees. Therefore, your first step is to try and make contact with your employee.

In some circumstances, you may want to consider your compassionate leave policy. All employees are entitled by law to have ‘time off for dependents’ under the Employment Rights Act 1996. This allows them a reasonable amount of time off to deal with unforeseen matters and emergencies involving a dependant – a spouse, partner, child, parent, anyone living in their household, or someone they are responsible for.

If an employee does not have a valid reason for their unauthorised absence, employees may wish to use their disciplinary policy. ACAS share more information about best practice when managing unauthorised absences in the workplace.

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