The five-step process for managing staff sickness

  • Leave and Absence
ill person lying on sofa blowing nose
Gavin Scarr-Hall - Director of Health & Safety at Peninsula

Gavin Scarr Hall, Director of Health and Safety

(Last updated )

Employees get ill. It happens.

Being understanding of that is a must. However, too much leniency and a lack of monitoring may encourage some employees to take advantage - or even fail to report an absence at all… And these recurring last-minute days off are more likely to create havoc for your operations.

But by taking certain steps to monitor sickness absences, you can help to better support your employees and even help to improve attendance at work. Not to mention, you’ll have greater protection against legal claims if you wanted to discipline an employee for their absence.

Tribunals will look at the steps you took if the worst happened and your employee raised a claim against you.

So to follow best practice, here’s what you should do…

1.      Have a sickness and absence policy

First of all, a sickness and absence policy is a must if you don’t already have one.

Your policy should set out your expectations around sickness absence in writing. It should tell your employees how they should report sickness (and to whom) if they don’t feel well enough to work. It should also outline information around fit notes and how to provide proof of sickness.

You should also outline your rules around return to work interviews (which we’ll touch on later…)

Having a policy gives you and your staff a reference point. So, you have a consistent process to follow any time you have an employee off sick. It means if your employee breaks the rules - like they don’t let you know they’re off sick - you can take action knowing you’re acting consistently in line with your formal procedure.

And your staff can’t accuse you of being unfair when the same rules apply to everyone, and you have them in writing for everyone to see.

2.      Monitor and record sickness absences

Monitoring and recording sickness absences will help you keep tabs on who’s off work and help prevent underlying illnesses – like employees secretly battling health issues - going undetected.

ACAS recently updated its guidance to include sections on recording absence as well as using absence trigger points.

Recording sickness absence is useful because it can help you uncover a wider problem with absences in your workplace (which we look at below). You can find out if there are any common themes in the reasons behind sickness absence and spot trends and any unusual patterns (e.g. an employee who always calls in sick on a Friday).

You could also set up a trigger point system. The way this works is your employee wracks up points depending on how often or how long they’ve been off sick within a certain timeframe. And if your employee hits a certain number of points, you can arrange to have a review.

HR software can help simplify this kind of tracking and make it much less time-consuming. Software can keep tabs on staff attendance for you and flag any unusual patterns of absence.

So, you get a heads up whenever it’s time to address an attendance issue with your employee.

If you are using a trigger system, however, make sure to record certain types of absences separately. For example, a pregnant employee or an employee with a disability may take more days off for medical treatment than other staff. So, you should take care to exclude this kind of absence from their attendance record.

Otherwise, your employee could accuse you of discrimination if you discipline them for taking time off for a reason relating to a disability or maternity.

3.      Offer support

As mentioned, monitoring sickness absences can help you uncover a wider issue. And there are lots of reasons why staff might take sick leave, aside from the obvious.

It might be that your employee is taking sick days to care for children or because they’re burnt out from having too much responsibility.

Once you’ve found the reason behind the sickness, you may be able to find ways to help your employee feel less of a need to take time off.

Say your employee is taking sick days to care for children or because of a disability, you may consider offering flexible working. Meaning, you could allow them to work from home a few days a week. Or, you could allow them to adjust their working hours around hospital appointments or the school run.

And if your employee is off sick because of burnout in the job itself, it may be that you need to reassess their workload and check in with them more. Sometimes, checking in every so often can help you see how your employee is coping at work. So, you can make changes to their working arrangement or environment if necessary.

4.      Keep in contact

Another way you can help manage sickness absence is by keeping in touch with your employee while they’re off sick.

If your employee is off work for more than seven days, they need to provide you with a fit note (which is essentially written proof of sickness signed off by a medical professional). This fit note should tell you whether your employee is or isn’t fit for work, and any adjustments you may need to make to support their return to work.

And if it looks like your employee could be off sick for a while, it’s good to keep in touch while they’re off. So, it would be worth establishing how often you’ll be in contact and how you’ll stay in contact i.e. via phone or email.

Checking in on your employee while they’re off sick will keep you up to date on how they’re doing and give you opportunities to provide additional support. If your employee is struggling with their mental health for instance and you’ve signed them off work, it can be an isolating experience. So, checking in regularly lets them know their position is secure and support is there.

5.      Hold a return to work interview

Finally, when your employee returns to work after a period of absence, it’s good to have a return to work interview to touch base.

A return to work interview gives your employee an opportunity to talk about why they’ve been off work. These meetings are useful because they help you identify any underlying issues your employee might be dealing with. So, you can figure out ways to support them and hopefully reduce absences in future.

These meetings also act as a deterrent for staff faking or exaggerating sickness – as employees are less likely to lie when they’re face to face with their manager.

Just make sure you keep a record of what you discuss in this meeting.

The employer’s toolkit for managing staff sickness

Managing staff sickness is less tricky with a streamlined process.

To learn more best practices for managing and reducing sickness absences in your workplace, you may find the below resources useful:

·       Our free guide to managing sickness and absence download your free guide for instant access to HR best practices for managing staff sickness absence

·       Our blog: Peninsula’s HR Advice and Consultancy expert Kate Palmer explains what to do if you suspect your employee might be “pulling a sickie”.

Alternatively, just tap below to ask an HR expert your query today – free of charge.


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