Our next training session on 26 September 2019 will look at best practice for managing sickness absence at work. We will look at both the issues involved in managing short term persistent absence and long term absence due to serious ill health. The practical session will go through examples of the key issues faced by employers, and the best ways of addressing these.

Ahead of the training session we’ve set out a summary of some of the top tips that we will be covering on the day below.

Have a clear policy on managing absence

Whilst not legally required, it is helpful for employers to put a sickness absence management policy in place. This sets out the action that may be taken by the employer when absence reaches a certain level, and where that level is set. This ensures that employees are aware of the employer’s expectations in relation to attendance. It also ensures that managers act consistently, triggering the formal process at the same stage for all employees. The sickness absence management policy then also acts as a guide for managers, setting out the steps to be taken at each stage and the series of warnings that can be given if appropriate for persistent or lengthy absence.

Have a clear reporting procedure for sickness absence

The starting point for managing absence is to record absence and the reason for it. All employers should have a clear reporting procedure, setting out how employees should communicate their absence from work and by what time. Ideally all absences should be reported by telephone so that the employee’s manager has an opportunity to speak to the employee about their absence and urgent work matters which need to be covered. Reporting absence by text or email should be discouraged, and where this occurs, managers should attempt to call the employee to obtain further information.

On an employee’s return for work from absence, for whatever duration, it is helpful for employees to be asked to complete a simple record, recording the length and reason for their absence. This helps employers to track and underlying causes of absence. It is also helpful if an employee later raises that they believe their absence is connected to a disability, enabling the employer to easily review the reasons for past absence.

Hold return to work meetings

Particularly for more lengthy absence, return to work meetings should also be used. These meetings, conducted by the employee’s manager on their first day back, again provide an opportunity for the employer to understand the reason for absence, any underlying causes and any support the employee needs. Conducting return to work meetings also help to demonstrate that the employer is keeping an eye on absence levels.

Obtain medical advice

In most cases, particularly relating to long term absence, you will need to obtain medical advice before considering dismissal. This can be obtained via the employee’s GP with the employee’s consent, but preferably via an occupational health provider, who can provide an impartial view of the employee’s condition and ability to work. The purpose of the referral is to ascertain the employee’s medical prognosis and how long they will be unable to fulfil the requirements of the role. The medical professional can also advise on any adjustments that may assist the employee to return to work and give an indication as to whether the employee’s condition may amount to a disability.

Where an employee’s condition amounts to a disability, the employer must consider reasonable adjustments before dismissal. The key word is reasonable – the employer is not obliged to create a new role for the employee or make changes that would not be feasible. However, equally employers should not dismiss proposed adjustments out of hand. Adjustments should be carefully considered, and where not implemented, clear reasons for this be recorded.

Consider the impact on other employees

Finally, when managing sickness absence it is important to consider the impact on other employees. Where the duration of absence is unknown it can be difficult for the employer to arrange cover. Other employees can end up picking up the employee’s workload, which in turn can affect their own well being and health. Managers should monitor the impact of sickness absence on other team members and ensure that additional workload is spread appropriately. Managers should also ensure that other employees do not feel underappreciated.

If you would like to attend our training session on 26 September 2019 exploring these issues in more detail, please book your place by emailing Sophie Warren or call her on 023 8048 2345.