Can you contact an employee when they are off sick?

09 July 2019
Employees who are absent from work due to sickness can become a time-consuming issue as you attempt to focus on your day-to-day activities. Take care to avoid this, as maintaining contact while an employee is off sick can help the employee return back to work faster than if they’re forgotten about.

Making contact

A common question from employees is: “Can my employer ask why I am sick?” Some of your staff may become concerned about whether you can even sack them for being off work ill. This is often made worse as employees may simply not know much about going to work sick laws. As such, it’s a good idea to prepare in advance so you understand the employment law and sickness policies that are appropriate to use. Outline your medical leave rules for contacting staff during sickness absence in your policy. Not only does this make the employee aware of when they’ll (potentially) receive contact, but managers can refer back to this when an employee is off ill. It will set out the workplace rules on appropriate forms of contact for both of you. For example, whether your staff should send texts saying they’re ill, or if they have to ring their manager by a certain time.

Employee sick leave rights

The big question: can an employer ask why an employee is sick? It’s a difficult topic and one that needs careful consideration. Once you're aware an employee is not attending work through illness, you should make first contact with the respective employee. Do this on the first day of absence when possible, with messages left asking the employee to call back if they do not answer the phone. This contact is important to find out: the reason for the sickness absence, the likely length of absence, whether the employee is taking medication/has made arrangements to see a doctor, and whether they have any additional information for you. Once you’ve made contact, you’ll know how to manage the absence. For example, if it’s only going to last one day they may be able to reallocate priority tasks but leave longer projects with the employee. But what about long-term sickness employment rights? Well, if the absence is going to last for a longer period of time, may need to set other plans in place such as re-allocating tasks, asking colleagues to work overtime, or hiring temporary cover.

Maintaining contact

When an employee is out of work for a longer period of time, they can feel isolated or forgotten about. They may also become unaware of what workplace support could help them return, or whether they can agree reasonable adjustments if their absence is due to a disability. If their absence is due to mental health, or workplace stress, their condition may become worse due to lack of contact, leading to a further period off work. To prevent this, employers should maintain regular contact with an employee who is out of the business. You could get in touch to ask questions about the employee’s health, provide the employee with updates or workplace news, discuss whether they need support to help bring them back to work, or discuss arrangements for their return. It is important that employers get the balance for contact right. Too little contact can result in the employee becoming isolated. Too much contact can make the employee feel stressed or under pressure to return. It is difficult to achieve this balance but employers can speak to the employee and agree how often they will make contact during this absence, including the form of this contact. Additionally, if the absence is due to, or contributed to, by an employee’s manager, then consider whether an alternative contact is necessary. This may be a different manager or HR. But remember that during this contact your employee may disclose sensitive and difficult information. The person making the contact should feel confident to handle this conversation appropriately.

Looking for more assistance?

You can get in touch today for further help on sick leave entitlement? Call us on: 0800 028 2420.

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