Managing sickness absence: five top tips

The CIPD has published its annual Absence Management Survey report. The survey suggests that many line managers are ill-equipped to manage staff…

The CIPD has published its annual Absence Management Survey report, which examines trends in workplace absences. The survey suggests that many line managers are ill-equipped to manage staff absences.

Dr Jill Miller, Research Adviser at the CIPD commented that managers dealing with the health and well-being of staff face a ‘serious responsibility that should be built into their job role, rather than an add-on, so that they can invest the time in building their capabilities, and with an emphasis on their own well-being as well as their teams.’

Here are our practical tips for assisting managers to effectively deal with absence management.

1. Ensure that terms and conditions are clear about sickness absence - implement a full Sickness Absence Policy

Ensure that staff are informed of the terms and conditions relating to incapacity to work due to ill health.  A full Sickness Absence Policy should be in place to inform staff of the potential stages they may find themselves being managed through and the standards to which they need to adhere to avoid potential dismissal.

Practical tip – Consider producing a guide for managers to assist them in implementing the sick absence policy. This should provide practical guidance on how to deal with difficult or complex sick absence cases.

2. Ensure that absences are recorded accurately and contain all required details

When managing an individual’s sickness absence it is essential to show when they have been off, for how long and for what reason. An accurate record will also determine whether there is a pattern to the absences, for example a disproportionate number of Mondays off sick.

You will need to take a different approach to managing someone who is constantly having short bursts of absences due to a variety of different reasons, to someone who has been on long term sickness absence relating to a consistent ill health related condition. 

Practical tip – You are required by law to make reasonable adjustments for disabled staff. Consider how you will include this in any Sickness Absence Policy and how this will be recorded. Some employers discount any disability related absences from a sick record. Deciding whether a member of staff is disabled is a complex legal issue that Employment Tribunal Judges have difficulty deciding so it is not surprising that managers need assistance in dealing with these issues.

3. Ensure that managers are trained and informed on sickness absence management procedures

Sickness absence can take many forms and be complex and sensitive to manage. It can take the form of short or long term, be pregnancy related, disability related, or it may be due to a degenerative condition or work related stress.

People are often promoted into management roles because of their technical expertise as opposed to their proficiency in people management. Managers need to be trained to manage sick absences proactively and ensure that preventative measures are in place to support staff. Training should deal with implementation of the sick absence policy and must be refreshed regularly, especially when legislation or policy changes. 

Practical tip - It is essential when dealing with more complex sick absence issues that managers get expert advice from a HR professional. Ensure that managers have contact details of an HR professional that they can consult for advice and guidance.

4. Call on expert medical opinion when necessary

In most cases a medical view can be obtained from the an individual’s GP but they are not skilled in examining an ill health condition in relation to an individual’s job role and, in some cases, you may require an opinion from an occupational health physician or even a medical consultant (for example a psychiatrist for a mental health condition). 

Practical tip – Ensure that managers know how to prepare referrals to medical experts in order to obtain practical solutions and the assistance they require to assist the individual in attending for work regularly. Also ensure that a medical professional has the background details of any sickness absence from the employer’s perspective. Otherwise the medical expert will only be able to advise on what the employee has told them.

5. Use preventative measures to address sickness absence management

The term ‘well-being’ is being increasingly used by businesses. This means investing in the good health of staff and introducing measures to create a healthy workplace which should prevent some absences related to ill health. 

Most businesses now provide staff with information to educate them on how to manage their own health and well being including providing access to health advice, smoking cessation, exercise and healthy eating.

Practical tip - the best form of preventative action is to talk to staff who are having issues causing absence. Policies, training and expert opinion can all assist but working closely with staff puts managers in the best position to identify when there may be an issue and to find out how to provide support to enable the individual to avoid sick absence.  

Mandy Higgins ( is a Partner in the Employment Pensions and Immigration Team and is based in Liverpool and has extensive expertise in advising large employers on all aspects of sickness absence management and disability discrimination. If you have any questions please get in touch with Mandy or speak to your usual Weightmans advisor.

Our national employment team are able to provide your line managers and operational teams with bespoke in-house Absence Management training sessions for a fixed fee.

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