Sickness Absence

Employees may become ill and require sick leave from time to time. It is important to have an effective sickness policy in place that offers support to employees while maintaining accountability.

Occasional illness is normal and should be expected by employers, however, if employees are not genuinely unwell and are absent from work without good reason this can be detrimental to any business.

All employers should ensure that they have a sickness absence policy in their staff handbook to ensure employees are aware of their reporting duties to the business. These days, where email and texting are commonplace, employees may consider that these are suitable alternatives to reporting the first day of sickness rather than calling the business to advise of the absence, the reasons for it, and the likely duration. This is important data to assist the business to plan effectively for the absence. However, more can be understood from a telephone call to the office than the one-sided text or email being sent by a sick employee.

Sickness Policy

The first step to managing employee’s sickness absences is to have a clear policy in place.

A sickness policy lets employees know of the process expected when they are ill. The policy is likely to contain information such as:

  • How you would like an employee to let you know they are ill
  • Who they should contact and when
  • Employer rights to medical records with the employee’s consent
  • When they will be required to fill out a self-certification form
  • When to obtain a statement of fitness for work (also referred to as a fit note)
  • The employee’s right to Statutory Sick Pay (SSP)
  • The organisation’s sick pay scheme (if applicable)
  • The level of absence that will trigger formal action

We are experts in advising on what a sickness policy should contain and the requirements relating to payment whilst the employee is absent from work.

Recording Data

The next step in managing sickness absence is recording data. When an employee misses a day of work, it is important to keep a record of the date and the reason for absence. This allows the business to identify trends and determine whether further steps need to be taken to deal with the concern. Frequent absences for minor reasons may give rise to the need to organise an attendance review to discuss the issue with the employee.

Return to Work Interview

It is important to maintain contact with absent employees so you can retain a good relationship and get a better idea of when they will be able to return to work.

A return-to-work interview is also a great way to open a dialogue in which the employee feels comfortable sharing any underlying health issues or concerns that could affect their ability in the workplace in the future. Line managers can use a return-to-work interview to agree on a plan to help the employee return to work and offer appropriate support.

Absence Prevention

Whilst occasional leave is to be expected, employers need to prevent excessive sick leave by ensuring there is a clear process of accountability in place.

Some of the most effective ways to deter absences include:

  • Implementation of a clear absence policy
  • Require employees to provide proof of illness
  • Maintain regular communication with absent employees
  • Conduct return to work interviews
  • Record all data and look for trends

It is also important to consider why employees may be taking extra days off work and to investigate employee’s wellbeing and happiness in the workplace.

Long-Term Absence

The business must determine when it requires the employees to provide a Statement of Fitness for Work (fit note). If this is required for less than seven days absence, the business must be prepared to pay for the statement. This can provide further details and an understanding of the nature of the illness and its likely duration.

Longer periods of absence may be linked to a serious illness. It may be useful to refer the employee to an occupational health specialist for a detailed assessment of their health to take place. If the reason for the absence is deemed to be a disability, the Equality Act requires the employer to make reasonable adjustments to enable the employee to perform their role.

If the absence is prolonged, it may be necessary to consider dismissal on grounds of medical capacity. The employee should be consulted about the reports the employer has received from the employee’s GP or consultant and occupational health professional. A meeting should be arranged to take place with the employee after which a decision is taken as to whether the employment should be ended.

A business may terminate employment on the grounds of capability if the medical evidence shows:

  • The employee will be incapable of work for the foreseeable future
  • Reasonable adjustments cannot be made
  • There is no suitable alternative role available
  • There is a genuine need to replace the employee permanently

If you have staffing issues relating to sickness absences, our friendly People Services solicitors will work with you to create a new policy where one does not exist or review your existing absence policy. We can also advise on the best course of action if you have an employee or group of employees taking an unusual amount of sick leave.


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