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Workplace sickness will inevitably have an impact on the business as well as placing a strain on other employees. Encouragingly, the level of sickness absence in the UK is getting better. Most absences only last a day or two, but we are heading into the season where the dreaded flu and winter cold are creeping back upon us and employers need to be prepared.
First of all, you need to ensure that you have a robust sickness absence policy in place that is easy to follow. Employees need to be aware of how to report an absence correctly. If an employee reports an absence, ask them to provide details of the nature of the illness and a likely return date to allow you to manage expectations and arrange appropriate cover. Failure to follow the policy can lead to disciplinary action.
Throughout any period of absence, you can contact the employee from time to time for an update on their absence, however you should be mindful that you do not overstep the line and should always consider the nature of the absence.
You should ensure that any illnesses over 7 days are supported by a Fit to Work note from their GP. If a Fit to Work note is provided, make sure it is carefully reviewed and considered as it may state that an employee is only fit to carry out ‘some work’. In this case, you should make relevant arrangements to accommodate this. If the appropriate adjustments are made, and the employee fails to attend, the absence will be unauthorised.
On the employee’s return you should carry out a full return-to-work interview, regardless of the length of absence. The purpose of the meeting is to discuss:
- The employee’s fitness to return to work;
- The reason for the employee’s absence;
- The employee’s overall absence record; and
- Any recurring health issues.
It is useful to keep a record of the meetings.
If employee absence is a frequent occurrence and no improvements are being made, you may wish to consider further action. You should adopt trigger points so that it is clear and consistent when an absence will be escalated. If an employee then reaches the trigger point, the employer may consider proceeding down a formal route. Employers should be consistent with their approach in enforcing this.
Employers should expect a satisfactory level of attendance from their staff. Whilst it is important that employers treat absence as a sensitive issue, you should not be scared of investigating serial absences.
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