There are generally two types of sickness absence – persistent bouts of short term absence, and long term absence attributable to serious illness or disease. It is wise for an employer to recognise the distinction between the two and treat them differently. This is because, ultimately, a tribunal would expect different procedures to have been exhausted by employers in these differing situations, should a claim for unfair dismissal be made.
Generally, persistent bouts of short term absence can be dealt with as a conduct issue – high levels of disruption and uncertainty caused by ad hoc sickness absence cannot be tolerated by employers, and the situation must be addressed. Addressing these issues with a consistent procedure shows staff that you will not allow their behaviour to go unnoticed. Implementing a robust system to deal with absence is important, with focus placed on the following measures:
· A notification of absence procedure (informing staff of the way to notify their absence, to whom and by when);
· Making contact with staff on sick leave where appropriate;
· Holding return to work interviews;
· Keeping comprehensive records of date of sickness absence and the reason for the absence.
All of the above may make an employee think twice about non-genuine absence, because they know they will have to account for themselves each and every time, being asked to provide an explanation.
Long term absence will need to be dealt with differently. Support and extra supervision are likely to be needed, with referral to external medical practitioners a probability to gain sufficient knowledge on the employee’s prognosis. Keeping on top of the issue will mean it runs quicker and brings about a quicker resolution. Dismissal of someone on sick leave is not impossible – this is a common misconception.
Taking proactive steps to stop ill health occurring is within the scope of an employer. Regular meetings with staff can foster an environment of openness and employees will have the opportunity to raise any issues they may have with their health so that employers are aware from the start.
Providing access to well-being counsellors is another option. This may sound like an expensive route, however, it need not be. Employee Assistance Programmes in the workplace are on the increase and allow employees access to a 24 hour phone line to discuss any personal issues, whether health related or otherwise. Trained counsellors are on the other end of the phone, equipped with listening skills or rafts of information for another other query the employee may have.
As always, prevention is better than cure.
For further clarification please contact Peninsula on 0844 892 2772.