BY SUZANNE ORTON HR Consultant
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absence

Whilst it is a fact of life that we all become unwell at one point or another, and we should all be able to take the time that we need away from work in order to recover. Lots of organisations that I am talking to are worried that they have employees who have excessively high numbers of days off.

A large amount of sickness absence can be hugely disruptive to the operations of an organisation. Not only does the sickness absence impact on the productivity of the business but it can also negatively impact on other employees’ motivation and engagement when they have to pick up the work of a colleague or multiple colleagues whilst they are off.

If a pattern of absences can be seen across the organisation, it can also signal that there could be serious issues that need to be addressed! Are your manager’s managing their people effectively? Could your employees be disengaged? Do they have clear roles and objectives?

When advising our clients on how to deal with issues around sickness absence, there are certainly different approaches dependent on the ‘type’ of time off occurring. For instance, an employee who is consistently ‘sick’ every Monday for the last 2 months (frequent absence) should be dealt with in a completely different way to an employee who has been off for 2 months with a significant illness or injury (Long-term Absence).

Frequent Absence:
If employees are absent from work frequently or you begin to see a pattern emerge, the initial step has to be a conversation! Talk to the employee(s), tell them that you are concerned and ask them about the reasons for the absence – this ‘return to work’ conversation when had consistently, can in itself reduce absence due to employees knowing they need to meet after every occasion of absence. If the absence continues you may decide to deal with this through your disciplinary procedure.

In contrast, this conversation may also disclose that the employee is dealing with an underlying illness that is having a considerable effect on their health and ability to attend and carry out their work consistently. You may wish to request medical certification for these absences or seek further medical advice. Advice can be gained in different ways such as requesting a report from the employees GP or a referral to an occupational health professional to understand the duties you have as an employer to support and manage the situation effectively.

Long-term Absence:
If employees have been, or are likely to be, absent from work for more than four working weeks, as above, gaining further medical insight really is key. Employers (and Doctors) can make a referral for an Occupational Health Assessment through the national Fit for Work Scheme. The Scheme is designed to provide information on the condition, prognosis for recovery and to provide guidance to employers on any reasonable adjustments which may support a return to work.

Of course, there may be times when either the prognosis or the inability to make adjustments prevents the employee from ever returning to their role. Such times can be very difficult for both the employee – who is faced with distressing news about their health – and for the employer who wishes to support the employee but must also fulfil their responsibility to the business and wider employees too.

A sensitive, fair and pragmatic approach should be adopted in these situations…

Can the business sustain the employee’s sickness absence in the long-term? Can it sustain the costs of a replacement employee to fulfil the needs of the job role? Is the business fulfilling its duty of care to other employees in terms of any additional workload on top of their normal duties? Quite often in these situations the answer to all, or some, of these questions is ‘no’. Again, open discussions with the employee can really help here. Alternatively you may, through necessity, need to consider the termination of the employee’s employment through a capability process.

Handling absences can be tricky at times, if you would like some support on minimising disruption in your business, give one of our team a call on 01621 730 824 we’d love to hear from you. This blog

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