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One thing is for sure, sickness will occur from time to time in any business. When absence is handled well, the outcome will be positive for both the employee and the employer. It’s a time to ensure that everyone in the workplace is considered; managers must support the employee who is off sick and those who are picking up the extra workload to ensure the smooth running of the business. Having a monitoring system and solid policies in place will help managers deliver confident and consistent conversations.
A manager’s role
When a member of staff calls in to report their sickness, it is best practice that they speak to their manager. The manager should be supportive, listen and express concern; this conversation can make a big difference to the way the employee feels about their absence. At this stage it is essential to ask these questions and to make a note of the response:
The manager should also ensure that they understand the company policy on sickness.
Monitoring staff absenteeism
To handle employee sickness sensitively, it is key that the employer takes steps to understand the reasons for the absence. A monitoring system will allow the company to keep a record of the nature and length of every absence and is a useful tool to identify any patterns. It is impossible to manage sickness if the employer does not know what they are dealing with.
Short term sickness
The most common causes for short-term sickness are colds, stomach upsets, headaches and migraines. From the monitoring system, the manager can identify if the employee has regular absences / pattern of absences which could indicate a bigger problem with the individual, or even problems within their team.
Long term sickness
Back pain, musculoskeletal injuries, stress, cancer, chronic conditions and mental ill-health are the main causes for long-term sickness.
The individual’s manager must approach the absence sympathetically and delicately while maintaining a connection to the workplace. Throughout the absence and the employee’s return to work, it is crucial that the manager liaises with HR and Occupational Health to ensure policies and procedures are adhered to.
Fit notes (Statement of Fitness for Work)
If the absence lasts up to, and including 7 days, the employee can self-certify, meaning that they need no formal evidence of their illness.
If the employee was sick for over 7 days, they should provide a fit note from their doctor which may say that they are unfit to work for a specified amount of time, or may say that they can return to work immediately if adjustments are made.
It’s paramount, and permissible, to keep in touch with the employee during their absence. The manager should ask how they are recovering and, if appropriate, ask when they believe they will be fit enough to return to work. At no time, should the employee feel pressured, as returning to work too soon can have a negative impact.
When an employee is off long-term, keeping in touch is especially important. A plan of communication should be agreed, appropriate to the employee’s condition. The manager should ascertain if there is anything the company can do to help them return to work which may include amended duties, a change in hours and workplace adaptions.
The return to work
To ensure the return is managed smoothly it’s essential to conduct a return to work interview. This can also be used as a tool to deter ‘sickies’.
For short-term absences it’s the perfect time to discuss if there are any underlying causes. If an underlying health concern is identified this should be addressed with the support of the employee’s doctor or referred to Occupational Health to provide the support needed. Should the level of absence reach a trigger point in your absence policy, then you need to start immediate action or place the individual on an improvement plan.
Before an employee who has been absent long-term returns to work, the manager should have already established a return to work plan; this should include:
If appropriate, the manager should learn about the employee’s condition from appropriate medical professionals and seek advice on how best to support them at work.
How we can help
Here at P3 People Management we know that employee sickness can sometimes be difficult to manage. We offer a HR advice line via telephone and email to support your company through challenging times.
We also offer an end to end automated HR data management system. This comprehensive system captures all instances of absence to help your company make better informed decisions on how to handle individual situations as well as absence in the workplace overall.
Or, if you need a helping hand creating robust employment policies and processes, then we can help with this too to remove any doubt as to the particular standards your company expects. We will also conduct a full annual review of your Contract of Employment and Handbook as part of our HR Advisory Service.
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