There’s no getting away from the fact that your employees will get ill. Especially at this time of year when everyone seems to be coughing and spluttering.

But staff illness can be tricky to manage if you’re running a small business. Even if someone’s only off for a day or two, it can feel like a big knock to the team.

To help your staff get back to health and back to work, put together a sickness policy. Not sure where to start? Here are some tips on what to put in yours.

Why should I put a sickness policy together?

Your sickness policy should set out your company’s aims for handling staff illness.

You might want to highlight your hopes of reducing the amount of ‘absenteeism’—when employees regularly stay off work without a genuine reason—in your workplace.

If you do mention absenteeism, it’s important to explain that your business recognises the need for employees to take time off when unwell.

Making this clear will help to stop a culture of ‘presenteeism’—when employees feel they have to attend work while they’re ill.

Putting together a sickness policy will help you manage and monitor your team’s sickness. It will also let your employees know the process you expect them to follow when they’re sick.

What should I include in it?

Put yourself in the mindset of an employee. What would you want to know about your rights and responsibilities when sick? Then give the answers in your sickness policy.

Your policy can include information on:

  • How you want an employee to tell you they’re ill. For example, by calling their manager before 10am.
  • When you’ll need them to fill out a self-certification form.
  • When you’ll need them to provide you with a fit note.
  • Your employees’ rights to Statutory Sick Pay.
  • Your company’s sick pay scheme (if you have one).

The policy should make it clear that you can take disciplinary action if the employee doesn’t follow these rules.

Set out the absence triggers

Your sickness policy should outline the absence management ‘triggers’. This is the level of absence that will start formal action.

This is usually set up in stages:

  • Stage one: an informal ‘return to work’ meeting with the employee.
  • Stage two: a formal ‘return to work’ meeting with the employee.
  • Stage three onwards: take disciplinary action where necessary.

It’s important not to scare your employees with this information. But you still need to be firm in showing how your business will address regular sick leave.

You can set out the absence management triggers based on your business needs. But usually, employees with lots of short absences should reach the trigger before employees with long-term absences.

Prepare them for their return to work  

It can be daunting for an employee to return to work. Particularly if they’ve been off for a long time or their absence was due to workplace stress.

To help put your staff at ease, set out in your policy what will happen once they return to work.

It’s a good idea to have a ‘return to work’ meeting with your employees. Discuss whether they need any support and give them an update on what’s happened since they were last in work.

The policy should also explain any support your business offers. You could mention making reasonable adjustments under the Equality Act 2010 or highlight workplace benefits like Employee Assistance Programmes