Many businesses understand that sickness is unavoidable in the workplace.
People get ill all the time and it’s something you can’t fully control. However, you can control negative consequences by managing sickness absence.
With this, you can effectively support employees during their leave, up until they’re well enough to return to work.
Failing to provide appropriate management could lead to a significant impact on both the workforce and the business.
In this guide, we’ll look at what sickness absence management is, legal rights for sick employees, and how effective management protects your overall business.
What is sickness absence management?
Sickness absence management regulates employees on leave due to ill health or injury.
It’s used to reduce the absence of physical and mental sickness. This type of leave from the workplace is also known as ‘absenteeism’.
Sickness absences can be formally documented, through policies and procedures. Or it can be acknowledged informally, through workplace cultures.
(Managing sickness absences regulates employees on leave due to ill health or injury).
Why is managing sickness absence important?
There are so many reasons why you should manage sickness absence. And these stand for both the employer’s business and the staff themselves.
One important reason for managing them is because of lost productivity. Bad management can lead to overlooked deadlines, neglected services, and missed revenue.
Another important reason is known as the ‘human cost’. We accept employees who fall ill from time to time, it’s perfectly normal. But just because they’ve taken leave doesn’t mean your duty of care stops.
Some employees may be off because they’ve suffered from work-related injuries. Like workplace stress, burnout, and musculoskeletal injuries.
What are the laws on managing sickness absences?
There are no actual laws on managing sickness absence in the UK. However, there are legal and moral responsibilities which all employers need to adhere to.
Under the Equality Act 2010, you must provide reasonable adjustments to any employee with a physical or mental impairment relating to a disability. Some workplace adjustments can include:
- Making physical changes to the work environment.
- Allocating certain tasks to other employees.
- Offering transfers to another job position.
- Amending certain work conditions.
- Providing additional equipment, training, and mentoring.
Some employees might raise grievance claims if they felt mistreated during sick leave. As a business, you could end up facing damages to your productivity and brand name.
Other relevant laws
If you need medical information from a sick employee, adhere to the Access to Medical Records Act 1988. This act states you must seek permission before gaining or sharing an employee’s medical report.
If you neglect this, you could breach this law and the Data Protection Act 2018 (DPA). This happens when you share an employee’s health details (physical or mental) without consent. You could create legal issues if you share ‘sensitive personal data’ without consent.
The ACAS Code of Practice Disciplinary and Grievance Procedures provide guidance on how to manage sickness absence. Using these guidelines, you can process and manage all kinds of absences. Remember, your legal obligations involve caring–not curing–their health problems.
(Some employees might raise negligence claims if they felt mistreated during sickness leave).
How to manage sickness absence in the workplace
Managing attendance at work should be part of your company ethos and procedures.
All employees need to be able to take sickness leave, whilst fully understanding their rights and obligations. And through effective management, you can safeguard both the employer and all employees.
Here are steps on how to manage sickness absence:
Create a sickness absence policy
It’s not a legal requirement to have a policy on managing sickness absence. However, it’s proven to be beneficial if you have one.
Your sickness absence policy should help employees know:
- How to report their absence (by phoning an absence line or human resources).
- Who needs to be informed (like line managers or occupational health).
- Whether contractual sick pay terms apply.
- Whether they need to provide fit notes or medical reports.
- If return to work interviews will take place.
- If reasonable adjustments will be required.
The sickness absence policy must be accessible to every employee within your business. That way, you can help protect your staff during these unpredictable situations.
Record all absences efficiently
When it comes to managing absences, it’s so important to record all absences efficiently.
Keep accurate and legible records of absence, as this helps you stay on top of employee leave.
Remember, it’s not about asking line managers which employees haven’t worked enough. Rather, it’s about ensuring every individual receives the right care, support, and allowance–at the right time.
Keep open communication throughout
One of the most important steps you need is to keep open communication during every workplace absence.
Avoid overbearing or intrusive contact–it’s not about ringing the employee every single day. Rather, it’s about gaining a better understanding of their situation, providing sufficient support, or helping them return to work.
Your absence policy should outline who needs to maintain contact. This might be someone from occupational health services or immediate line managers. With managers, it’s important to provide the right training so they can deal with any team member on shorter and longer absences.
Provide statutory sick pay
When an employee is off sick, you may need to provide statutory sick pay (SSP). It’s only available to those who:
- Count as an employee and have an employment contract.
- Are unable to work for at least four continuous days. (Absence rate doesn’t include non-working days, like the weekend or public holidays).
- Earn at least £123 weekly, before tax.
- Have informed their workplace about their sickness within an appropriate time. (Or within seven days if there isn’t a mandatory period).
The maximum amount SSP employees can receive is £99.35 per week, for up to 28 weeks. And it’s only available from the fourth day of their sick leave. The first three days don’t count as qualifying days, so you don’t need to provide SSP for them.
In some cases, businesses will provide contractual sick pay (CSP) which is generally higher than statutory sick pay. The full amount is calculated on factors like an employee’s length of work service or individual contractual terms.
Ask for a fit note
Remember, every sickness is different and will need different requirements.
For short-term absences, the rules are simple. If an employee’s absence is for seven days or less, they can provide a self-certification.
When it comes to sickness absence longer than seven days, the rules are distinct. A long-term absence requires a Statement of Fitness, or fit note.
This is a medical examination conducted by an employee’s doctor or an occupational health professional. From July 2022, nurses, pharmacists, and physiotherapists will be legally certified to issue them.
The medical report will outline one of two things:
- Whether the employee is not fit for work.
- Whether the employee may be fit for work.
If it’s the second option, the fit note will highlight medical evidence and show how you can support their return to work.
Hold return to work interviews
After an employee provides the right medical note and feels better, you can aid their return to work.
These discussions are done through interviews or meetings, which highlight a safe and phased return to work.
During the return to work interviews, you should discuss whether:
- The employee is fully allowed to work as before. (Or if their work requirements or surroundings need to be changed).
- The employee still has any underlying issues.
- All absence reports are coherent with the record of events.
- Any illegitimate situations occurred during the absence.
You can hold these return to work interviews after both short and long-term absences. The main aim isn’t to penalise employees for being absent. It’s about ensuring they’re well enough to return and continue their work safely.
You can hold these interviews informally; however, they must be done privately. This is to ensure employees can comfortably share their personal state and circumstances.
During return-to-work interviews, you must remain unbiased whilst the employee shares their case. Don’t challenge their case without sufficient evidence.
Provide reasonable adjustments
As mentioned, if an employee has a medically diagnosed disability or health condition, you need to provide reasonable adjustments.
The legal definition of a workplace disability is, “a physical or mental impairment that has a ‘substantial’ and ‘long-term’ negative effect on [their] ability to do normal daily activities’.
All employers are legally obligated to make workplace changes that will eliminate trigger points and provide support daily. To make suitable adjustments, ask the employee themselves or seek professional advice from an occupational health service.
Some of the most common adjustments you can make include:
- Providing a phased return to work.
- Changing personal work conditions.
- Amending their contracted hours.
- Introducing therapy or counselling support.
- Offering alternative employment.
Can you dismiss an employee on long-term sickness absence?
When an employee is so ill, that they can’t fully fulfil their duties, you may consider dismissal for sick leave. But this decision should only be done as a last resort.
You should offer warnings and cautions beforehand, in accordance with your disciplinary or capability procedure.
Certain actions which may constitute a dismissal include:
- The level of illness.
- The employee’s job position.
- Whether the employee will return to work.
- Whether you need temporary cover.
- If other roles have been offered.
- If the employee’s illness resulted from their work.
All employers must adhere to employment dismissal laws before terminating an employee’s job because of their health.
Once you’ve considered it, you must hold a meeting with the employee to discuss this matter. They need to be given all appropriate information and sufficient time to respond.
When providing confirmation for a dismissal, you should do it in writing. This is known as a dismissal letter and must include details about your reasons.
Employees have a legal right to appeal against your decision. This is especially common if an employee feels they’ve been dismissed unfairly. So, make sure you have thorough reasons and evidence before actioning a dismissal.
Get expert guidance on sickness absence management with Peninsula
All businesses must have an efficient process that deals with sickness absence.
That way you can protect employee welfare and business welfare simultaneously. If you fail to provide these requirements, you could face losing employees for good.
If an employee raises a legal claim against you, you could end up attending court and paying compensation penalties.
Peninsula offers expert guidance on managing sickness absence. Our HR professionals are ready to help you with everything–from dealing with long-term absences to complying with employee entitlements.
Our 24/7 HR advice is available 365 days a year; with multi-lingual support and fully trained counsellors ready to help.
Want to find out more? Book a free consultation with one of our HR consultants. For further information, call 0800 028 2420