16 Aug 2021
Sickness absence is a major cause of disruption to business activities. For this reason, it’s understandable that employers would want to avoid the subject.
However, sickness absence is an inevitable HR issue which employers should know how to deal with. This is particularly true during periods of hot weather.
Employers should be clear from the beginning about the business case for managing sickness absence. It is not that employees cannot take time off work when they are sick. Instead, a good absence management system can help. This system can include absence notification procedures, such as:
- Requiring staff to call instead of texting or emailing
- Conducting return to work interviews
- Recording all absences and monitoring them for patterns
In this article we’ll help you construct a sickness management system that works for your business…
Sickness Absence Management
What should I focus on?
You should focus on these four criteria:
- Managing absence to keep this to an acceptable level
- Identifying the causes of absence
- Taking care of employees’ health and wellbeing
- Monitoring absence proactively and sensitively
Identifying the cause of absence is particularly important. This is because you may be able to provide support to the employee. For example. if the cause is mental health, you could reduce their hours. It will also help in identifying whether the absence is being caused by an impairment. This is important, as it is likely to be classed as a disability under the Equality Act 2010. You should determine this because legislation will place additional obligations on you. The most notable of these is the responsibility to make reasonable adjustments.
Taking care of employee health and wellbeing is a duty to manage the health & safety of employees. This cannot be done where staff are off sick, and no questions are being asked. If staff wellbeing is being affected by a workplace issue, but is never identified, it cannot be taken care of.
Annual leave management and warm weather
As the warmer months are now upon us, employees may begin to take a significant part of their annual leave. As a result, the holiday diary may look a little busier than normal.
That means you may be unable to accept leave requests as they fall on the same days. In turn, you could see a rise in sickness absences.
If you do receive conflicting leave requests, you should respond to the request in a timely manner. Confirm, clearly, that the leave has been refused. Explain the reasons why and refer to your holiday policy. Outline the rules within it, as this will help to limit any potential issues regarding your decision.
Communication will be important here also. You will benefit from speaking with staff whose leave requests have to be rejected to see if anything else can be done for them. For example, you could offer a half day instead of a full day. Alternatively, the employee could complete their tasks before leaving so that there is no backlog.
Do not assume that a person who has had their annual leave rejected and has called in sick is faking an illness. Doing this could lead to tribunal claims of unfair dismissal. With any suspected misconduct, you should follow a fair process. This has been emphasised in previous case law.
In Kane v Debmat Surfacing Ltd, an employment tribunal held that a driver who was sacked after being spotted drinking in a club while he was off sick was unfairly dismissed. This was due to the procedural defects on the part of the employer. The employer had not gathered sufficient information from which to make a reasonable decision. They worked on assumptions rather than fact.
Investigating the alleged misconduct will require a return-to-work process to be followed. This is because it will form part of the evidence. If, after the investigation, it is deemed that there is a case to answer, this should then be dealt with under the disciplinary process.
Managing absence can be complex. A good way to keep employees informed is to implement a sickness absence policy. This will set out internal rules on absence management. It is also used to highlight the workplace support available for absent staff, such as:
- Reduction in working hours,
- Use of annual leave for rest if the employee is overworked
If you need support with a difficult leave situation, or want to implement a new system to manage holidays, speak to one of our HR team today on 01455 858 132.
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