With many days of work lost through sickness in the social care sector, Helena Newberry, Employee Relations Advisor at Napthens highlights what makes a good absence management policy.
Managing absence in the workplace is a matter which is consistently on the agenda of management and doing so correctly has the utmost importance in all organisations. Within the Health and Social Care sector, sickness is an area of particular concern, given the critical nature of the work.
Data from the Office of National Statistics (ONS) reports that within the identified sector “Caring, Leisure and Other Service Occupations” there is an average number of days lost each year of 5.4 days per worker, which is the highest rate of absence per occupation. It is easy to understand how absence impacts this sector at a higher rate than others, given the top causes of short time illness in the UK are categorised as “minor illness”, “musculoskeletal issues” and “other/mental health” all of which are likely to impact those working in front line care at a higher rate, particularly in the wake of the ongoing impact of the COVID pandemic.
Robust absence management policy
Given the numbers above, it is easy to see the benefit of each workplace having its own robust absence management policy and the importance of well-trained managers who fully understand the processes involved to ensure adherence to this. It is also imperative that employees comply with the policy and reporting procedures when they are unable to work. Where an employee fails to do so, managers should ensure that this is addressed promptly to prevent any reoccurrences.
What should you include in an absence policy?
An absence policy should include the below as a minimum:
- How to report absences, including who the employee should contact and when
- When a sick note is required
- Details of when return to work discussions will be held
- How and when to keep in touch
- How the employer keeps track of absence and if they set any ‘trigger’ points
- Whether the employer provides occupational health or an employee assistance programme (EAP)
Good communication with staff
In addition to a clear absence policy, line managers should maintain regular communication with employees via regular catch ups, 1-2-1 meetings and appraisals to be aware of any workplace issues that may cause an absence for an employee. By undertaking these meetings, managers can get “ahead of the game” with resolving any potential problems before they occur.
Sickness or holiday leave
An area of concern for many employers is on the occasions where employees retrospectively request to take sickness as holiday. Each company will be different with regard to policy on this, however it is often in neither the interest of the employer nor the employee to allow time to be taken back as holiday. This is because it can mask any patterns of sickness which may be occurring, it may add as an unintended incentive for employees to call in sick if they believe they can take it as holiday and is also preventing the employee from using the holiday for what it is intended, i.e., to rest and re-energise. Consequently, employers should be wary to allow sickness to be taken as holiday as this can feed into a dangerous territory of employees relying on holiday to conceal single-odd days of absence from their absence records.
To conclude, the key to managing absence is to ensure there is a robust absence policy, managers need to ensure that trigger points are applied consistently, and that fairness is thread throughout decisions to prevent a situation whereby an employee could assert that they are being treated differently.
If you have any queries or in need of specific advice in relation to any employment law query, please contact a member of the Napthens Employment Team who are able to offer 30 minutes of free advice to QCS members.