Sickness absence. Two words that gives employers a terrible headache.
The impact of sickness absence on employers can be significant. PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) estimates that the annual cost of sickness absence for UK companies is nearly £29 billion.
So the question is: what can you, as an employer, do to manage sickness absences?
A good start is having a well-defined sickness policy. Below, we outline what every good sickness absence policy should include.
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What is the purpose of the policy?
The main aim of a sickness absence policy is to provide a clear framework for reporting, managing and recording sickness absences.
You should establish what you expect from your employees. Setting out your expectations allows genuinely sick employees to know they will be supported during their absence and malingerers that you can – and will – take disciplinary action.
How should employees notify you of an absence?
The policy should explain what an employee has to do when they are sick. It should answer the following questions:
- How should an employee notify their employer that they will be absent from work? Do they need to call, text or email?
- Who do they need to contact?
- Is there a specific time they are expected to contact by?
- What are the consequences if they do not follow these rules?
Establishing clear rules means that you are informed of all employee absences, have time to arrange cover and know when the employee is likely to return to work.
What certification should employees produce when they are absent?
You must also state what documents employees need to provide when they are sick.
If absence lasts up to seven days, the employee will need to provide a self-certificate of illness. If the absence lasts for more than seven days, the employee has a duty to provide a Statement of Fitness, known as a Fit Note, from their GP.
How to set your sickness absence trigger points
In your sickness absence policy, you should set benchmarks, known as trigger points, for unacceptable levels of short and frequent sickness absence.
There are two main ways to do this:
- simply set a threshold of a certain number of days’ absence in a given period, for example, X days in X months or X occasions of sickness in X months
- trigger the procedure where an employee’s absence reaches a set ‘Bradford factor’ score. This means that more weight is given to the number of absences instead of the duration, so a high number of short absences will scores much higher than fewer long absences.
Whatever way you choose, you must ensure that the limits are clear and reasonable. Employees must understand them to be able to comply. Managers must be familiar with them to monitor employee absences effectively.
You will also need to determine what will happen once those triggers have been met. Will they receive an informal caution at first? Will repeated absences lead to formal warnings? Will they face dismissal for serious and unacceptable absences?
Remember that an absence management procedure will run separately and independently of any disciplinary process.
How to manage long-term sickness absences
You will need a separate procedure for dealing with longer term sickness. You should think about the following points:
- How should employees keep managers informed when on long-term sick leave and when they expect to return to work?
- When will you refer the employee to an occupational health adviser and/or seek a report from the employee’s GP?
- What steps will you take to try and help the employee back to work?
There will be different considerations to keep in mind when you are dealing with an employee who has a disability. This will include details of when it would be necessary to consider making reasonable adjustments.
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Your sickness absence policy must state what your sick pay arrangements are.
It must outline what the employee will receive, whether they are entitled to contractual sick pay or Statutory Sick Pay, and for how long.
Making employees aware
Make sure all your employees know where they can find all the terms and conditions regarding sickness absence. The policy may either be found in the employee’s Contract of Employment or in another company document that is reasonably accessible for the employee, such as the Staff Handbook or on the Intranet.
It is good practice to get your employees to sign a receipt that shows they have read and understood the policy. Employees cannot then get away with saying things such as “I didn’t know I had to call my manager, rather than text when I was feeling too poorly to come to work” or “I had no idea I could face disciplinary action for doing that.”
Make sure you train your managers
Having a robust and clear absence management policy is great, but if it is not complemented by a pro-active and effective management approach, it is not worth the paper it is written on. Make sure your managers understand all the relevant procedures in the policy and know exactly what to do if an employee is off sick.
Managers should be monitoring staff absence. By doing this, you may spot certain trends or patterns and be able to take action to rectify the problem. Software such as EW Assist helps you do this.
You may notice the employee who pulls a sickie when a certain football match is on.
You may become aware that a certain individual has a real fondness for being sick on Fridays or Mondays.
You may realise that an employee has a very high number of short sickness absences in the last six months…and something needs to be done.
One last thing!
The policy is just one step you need to take when managing absences.
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