Sickness absence doesn’t have to be a problem for employers

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The average manager spends 20 working days each year dealing with absence issues; that’s one month out of twelve or just over 8% of working time. It is a staggering amount and includes almost 13 hours spent chasing absent employees by telephone and a further 48 hours organising cover.

There is a common misconception amongst employees that their employer cannot do anything about it if they are sick because ‘it’s not their fault’. It may not be their fault, but the odds are, it’s not yours either. However, it is likely to be a problem for both of you.

The key to handling absence is firstly to have a clearly defined policy on sickness and how it will be treated. This should include basic requirements such as when and how the absence must be reported and what the impact of absence has on an employee’s colleagues as well as the business itself.

It should also set out when sickness is likely to constitute disciplinary action. For example, repeated short term absences might lead to an investigation. Faking illness because you have run out of holiday allowance is likely to result in written warnings or dismissal.

A key element of any sickness absence procedure is to ensure that the employee meets with their manager on their return to work to discuss the reason for the absence. This should be documented so that any patterns in absences can be identified and appropriate action taken. Care should be taken to identify any disability that the employee may be dealing with as well as ways in which the employer can assist by adjusting the working environment.

Ultimately, an employee who is not capable of performing their job through sickness may be dismissed but as with any disciplinary action, a fair process must be adopted. In cases of ill health, medical evidence is likely to be crucial and the new Fit for Work service or other occupational health support might provide the evidence required.

If you are an employer struggling to manage an absent employee, contact one of the Employment team today for practical advice.

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