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…

Sickness absence can take many forms and be complex and sensitive to manage. It may be short or long term, pregnancy related, disability related, or may be due to a degenerative condition or work related stress. Each case will present its own particular challenges.

Managing sickness absence is a core day to day activity for most managers and HR practitioners, but our experience suggests that many line managers still struggle to manage absence consistently and effectively. Mistakes can be costly and may result in employment tribunal claims of unfair dismissal or discrimination.

Here are our practical tips for assisting managers to get to grips with managing sickness absence:

1. Ensure that terms and conditions are clear about sickness absence and 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 how their absence will be managed and the standards of attendance they need to maintain to avoid potential dismissal.

Practical tips: Consider producing a guide for managers to assist them in implementing the sickness 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 be able 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 sickness record. Deciding whether a member of staff is disabled is a complex legal issue that Employment Tribunal Judges often have difficulty deciding, so it is not surprising that managers need assistance and support in dealing with these issues.

3. Ensure that managers are trained and fully familiar with sickness absence management procedures

Employees 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 may not skilled in advising on the impact of a health condition on an individual’s job role. 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 to support 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

Investing in the good health of staff and introducing measures to create a healthy workplace, should help 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 experiencing issues that are 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 s problem and to find out how to provide support to enable the individual to avoid sickness absence.

Experts in our Employment Pensions and Immigration have extensive experience of advising employers in all sectors on all aspects of sickness absence management and disability discrimination.

Our national Employment, Pensions and Immigration team are able to provide your Line Managers and Operational Teams with bespoke, in-house absence management training sessions for a fixed fee.

If you have any questions please get in touch with your usual Weightmans advisor.

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