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HR Elite’s Top Tips for Managing Workplace Sickness Absence

Effectively manage workplace ill health

It is estimated that absence due to ill health costs the UK economy 11.6 billion per year, 1.7 billion attributed to employees ‘pulling sickies’ (Fresh Business ‘10).  For any business sickness absence can have a detrimental effect, not only in terms of the obvious financial costs but also due to the impact on service provision, staff morale, productivity and ultimately the bottom line.  So severe it can be that for some SME’s effective management of absence can make or break a Company.

Knowing appropriate processes and the legal aspects of effective sickness absence management will help reduce the risk to businesses and will also ensure that staff are being managed fairly with their full well being in mind.

HR Elite once again provide our readers with effective Human Resource Management Top Tips.

  1. Make sure your terms and conditions are clear about sickness absence management or better still implement a full Sickness Absence Policy – It is an employers obligation to ensure that its staff are contractually informed of the terms and conditions relating to incapacity to work due to ill health.  Most small businesses will have this information contained within its Contract of Employment, however, this is usually brief basic information on sick pay entitlements, the use of medical practitioners and a statement that absence due to ill health can result in dismissal.  Very rarely is there any reference to the full process and how an individual may be managed in line with this.  Some businesses therefore have in place a full sickness absence management policy which provides guidance to managers and in turn informs its staff of the process/procedure that will be followed should absence become a problem. By providing a robust policy to staff not only are they clear about the potential stages they may find themselves being managed through and what that involves but this also shows that each member of staff will be treated equally and in line with the law.
  2. Make sure your Managers are well educated and informed on effective and compliant sickness absence management processes – Sickness absence can take many forms.  Short or long term, related to pregnancy or disability, may be due to a degenerative condition that requires regular review and adjustments and in some cases may be cited as work related due to increased workload or work related stress.  Managers need to know how to manage sickness absence both in terms of being proactive and ensuring that preventative measures are put in place to support staff and their well being but also so they know how to deal with these situations lawfully in order to avoid costly Employment Tribunal claims.  Having a clear policy as stated above will go a long way, however, sometimes when a more complex issue arises it is advisable to gain expert advice from an experienced HR Practitioner or Consultant.  It may also be beneficial to invest in some sickness absence management training for managers
  3. Make sure absences are recorded appropriately containing the required details – When you are managing a number of staff it is very difficult to remember who has been off sick when, for how long and for what reason.  You suddenly realise a member of staff has had a considerable amount of time off due to ill health and want to manage it in the right way but find that you have no concrete information to refer to.  When managing an individuals sickness absence it is imperative that you are able to show them when they have been off, especially if there is a patter to their absences e.g Fridays and Mondays, for how long they have been off and the impact this has therefore had on the business and the reasons for absence.  You may take a different approach to managing someone who is constantly having short bursts of absence due to many different reasons to managing someone who has been on long term sickness absence relating to a consistent ill health related condition.  In addition, if you did dismiss an individual due to ill health and did find yourself defending a claim at Tribunal the hard evidence you present showing the details of the case can have a significant impact on defending that claim successfully or not.
  4. Use expert medical opinions where necessary – There will be instances where you may need to employ the services of a clinician/medic.  In most cases you may get documentation from an individuals GP, however, they are not skilled in looking at an ill health condition in relation to an individuals job role and in some cases you may actually need the advice of an specialist e.g a psychiatrist for a mental health condition.  Many businesses will seek advice from Occupational Health Advisers or specialist advice relating to an individual condition.  By receiving this advice you will be better placed to manage an individuals ill health appropriately and better advised on whether any adjustments should be made in order to bring the individual back to work.
  5. Use preventative approaches to sickness absence management – Many businesses are now using the term ‘well being’.  This means investing in your staffs good health, introducing measures that will create a healthy workplace which should prevent some absences relating to ill health, reduce absence levels overall and also reduce the impact some absences have on the workplace.  Most Companies now provide staff with information to educate them on how to manage their own health and well being so that the individual themselves can take ownership of their health.  Providing staff with access to healthcare services, health advice, gyms, dietary advice etc provides for a more healthier workforce which should in turn have some impact on preventing some illnesses and reducing absences generally due to ill health.

There are many other ways that a business can invest in its staffs well being and can ensure that when staff do take time off work due to ill health that it is managed effectively so that the individual feels supported and is either managed back to work in the right way or in some cases managed out of the Company equitably, fairly and compliantly.