Employers can set their own rules regarding the notification of sickness absence, because there’s no statutory framework in place for guidance, so you need to set a clear policy that outlines the accepted forms of communication and timeframes. Here’s some advice to help you decide how to manage the way staff tell you their unable to come to work...
First up, it’s important to recognise while you have the freedom to set your own general policy, there are some set rules regarding the notification of sickness absence which apply for the purposes of being entitled to receive statutory sick pay (SSP). So while you may be able to assert that an employee has breached rules regarding notification of sickness for disciplinary purposes, you may not be able to withhold payment of SSP for that period.
However, setting your own internal rules is good management, and whatever those rules may be, you can expect employees to stick to them. Ensure that you advise new staff of the rules at the outset of employment, and include them in your employee handbook too.
Things to consider
When devising your policy, essentially you need to cover the ‘how, when and who’:
How – first decide on the absence notification method. While some employers may feel that a text message or an email is sufficient, in terms of good absence management processes, a requirement for the employee to personally speak to someone is more likely to deter non-genuine absence – it’s easier to hide behind electronic communication.
When – in order to ensure you can cover an employee’s absence, it’s worth dictating a timeframe for notifying of sickness. For jobs carried out during ‘normal’ working hours, an hour before start time will generally be sufficient. However, atypical hours may require different rules – and education establishments usually require notification before the end of school on the previous day.
Who – you should also think about who needs to make the communication: do you require the employee to personally call in, or is it acceptable for the message to be conveyed by someone else? In most cases, there should be no reason that the employee cannot personally make contact, but a little leeway for extenuating circumstances could be included, e.g. if the employee were in hospital and was not in a position to make personal contact.
Setting these rules in place will help you to manage staff absences better, and provide clear guidance to employees so that they understand the procedures they should follow if their unable to attend work due to illness.