sicknessIt is a fact of running a business that employees will be off sick from time to time. In this blog we look at the options open to you as an employer when faced with longer term periods of sickness absence – the kind that can cause big disruption to your business.

Types of Absence

Absence typically falls into one of 4 categories:

• Short term absence lasting under a week – this is the most common
• Repeated short term absence which could follow a pattern – such as sickness on Monday mornings or every time certain meetings/events are in the diary
• Long term absence lasting more than a couple of weeks
• Unauthorised absence which has not been reported or explained

Procedure following Absence

While it is good practice to be sympathetic about absence, it is important to have effective policies and procedures in place to manage it.

Firstly, ensure that there is a procedure in place for reporting absence, whether to a manager or directly to you. When this first contact is made, you should firstly establish what is wrong and how long they are likely to be off work. This will be particularly important when deciding what to do about the absentee’s workload or duties as you will need to decide whether the workload can be covered by other staff, or whether you will need temporary cover.

You should also ensure that you ask the employee to keep you updated as and when they visit their GP and/or obtain further information. If they do visit their GP, ask them to provide a copy of their Statement of Fitness for Work (formerly known as a sick note) for your personnel file and any Statutory Sick Pay (“SSP”) calculations. Unfortunately, it’s no longer possible to reclaim the cost of SSP from the Government, so SSP will be a direct cost to your business in addition to the lost productivity of your employee.

Is there an underlying problem behind the absence?

Sickness absence can of course be for a number of reasons, but from an employer’s perspective it is important to establish whether the underlying cause relates to:

• An employee’s general physical condition
• Working conditions such as health and safety standards
• Stress at work
• Harassment and/or bullying
• Family, emotional problems or mental health issues other than stress

You should tread very carefully where there is a chance that your employee has a disability, stress-at-work related reason or has potentially fallen victim to bullying in the workplace. Any of these reasons could lead to an employment tribunal claim if the absence is not carefully managed, so you should seek professional advice to ensure that you don’t end up breaching anti-discrimination legislation.

Getting professional help

If you are an employer who is experiencing problematic sickness absence in your workforce, we at Backhouse Solicitors can help. Contact us today to arrange a free 30 minute consultation with one of our expert employment solicitors:

Tel:      01245 893400
Visit:   17 Duke Street, Chelmsford, CM1 1JU
Or send us a message through the Contact Us page on this website.