Contacting employees who are sick can be a very delicate process. To many employers it can feel like a minefield where one misstep can spell disaster. The biggest difficulty is that there is not one rule that can fit every situation with what is suitable for one employee not necessarily being right for another. An added complication for companies comes from trying to support those who are genuinely sick while identifying those who are hiding behind sickness in order to avoid facing the consequences of their actions.
It is advisable for companies to have a policy in respect of contacting sick employees. This allows the initial contact to be carried out with little risk of complaint because the employee knows that they are being treated the same as everyone else. The purpose of the policy should be clearly defined, namely to help employers understand the nature and cause of the sickness absence and to identify what actions, if any, need to be undertaken to assist the employee in returning to work. The policy should also set out what options can be explored if an employee will be unable to return in the foreseeable future.
Employees are entitled to a personal life and privacy at home so employers should be very careful about visiting employees at home. There is a significant difference between hand delivering a letter to ensure it is received and visiting to carry out a welfare meeting. Employers should only visit employees at home with the employee’s express permission and they should not be pressured into having a meeting at home. Companies need to speak to their employee about setting up channels of communication. If a meeting is necessary then the employee should be given the choice of where to meet, at work, at home or in a neutral place. Other methods of contact should be explored such as telephone or video conferencing. An employee’s home may be their haven from work so the company should not intrude without freely given permission.
An employer needs to keep in touch with an employee who is off sick, otherwise they risk being accused of disinterest and isolating the employee. Agree with the employee the nature and frequency of the contact they want during their absence and confirm that it can be changed as the employee’s recovery progresses. Employees can be contacted and visited at home to check on their progress but only if they are comfortable with that.
Some companies have Employee Assistance Programmes to help investigate employee absence and provide third party assistance to employees to help them identify and resolve the cause of their absence which will help speed their recovery. These programmes can have a specific focus on tackling stress and can automatically trigger contact once a set level of stress absence has occurred. They can provide counselling and support services to help an employee recover and return to work. This contact by a third party can help reduce the problems of contacting a sick employee directly.
For any further clarification, please call our 24 Hour Advice Service on 0844 892 2772.