- It’s that time of year when colds, coughs and viruses all take their toll and most business will see an increase in their sickness absence levels. But how many days’ absence in a rolling twelve -month period is too many? Did you know that the average UK employee takes 7 days off sick in any twelve month period and that there are more days lost to back, neck and muscle pain than any other cause?
Sickness absence needs to be dealt with sensitively and carefully as there are many discrimination laws that can and could be broken if the absence issue is not dealt with in the right way. Also, as a responsible employer, you don’t want to create a culture of fear which means that genuinely sick employees are coming into work as they are so worried about taking time off.
There needs to be a clear sickness absence policy that sets out the rules about how and when the employee needs to inform their employer about the absence, and how often they need to keep the employer informed about a rolling period of absence. It is also good practice to offer some sort of support to employee’s who go over an agreed period of absence, such as a meeting with an independent Occupational Health Dr, or where necessary offering an Employee Assistance Programme. An HR professional can give you some best practice advice on writing a sickness absence policy that meets ACAS guidelines and employment legislation that also works for your business.
- If you have an employee that you feel is taking too much time off for whatever reason, then you need to start recording their absences accurately. The absences can be recorded in a diary or on a spreadsheet, so that when you want to start formal conversations with the employee about their absence, you can discuss dates and total number of absences with them.
- Like all people issues, a concern about an employee’s level of absence should be dealt with quickly and not allowed to fester.
A good way to do this is to have a “Return to Work Interview” process in place, as part of your Sickness Absence policy. This return to work interview should then be conducted for every employee after every incident of absence, regardless of whether the absence is for 1 day or 10 days. The interview consists of some basic questions such as; making sure the employee is now fit and well enough to return to work, giving them the details of how many days absences they have had in the last 12 months, and explaining to them they were missed and how or who covered their work.
Getting into a regular habit of conducting these return to work interviews can make those who are perhaps taking a day off when really they could be in the office think twice about doing so, as these interviews can prove to be uncomfortable for anyone who is feeling a little guilty about taking a day off as they weren’t really ill and the absence wasn’t genuine. However, be careful, as we said earlier, you don’t want to make people feel they can’t take a days absence when they really need to. There is a real skill in conducting these interviews and it’s important to get the balance right between being sympathetic and caring about the employee’s illness or issue and then moving into the business aspect of the interview about how the employee has been missed in the business and the impact of them not being in the business.
- If the “return to work interviews” are not working, then you need to arrange a formal meeting with the employee to discuss their absence. Just as you would do in a disciplinary matter, you need to investigate the reasons for the absence. This will involve asking them lots of sensitively worded and careful questions, and it maybe that you decide this is not an area you want to be involved in nor have the expertise to deal with. This is where the support of an Occupational Health Dr, or an HR professional could prove to be useful in supporting you. It may be that the employee has a chronic illness that you weren’t aware of such as Diabetes or Chron’s disease that is affecting their health and causing them to take time more time off than you would expect to see. It may be that the employee has a personal issue that is affecting their attendance.
- There are many potential outcomes from this absence investigation meeting and how you deal with it really does depend on the individual and their personal circumstances. There are many ways to deal with improving attendance and reducing absence levels, so don’t feel that you can’t deal with an absence issue, just that you really need to understand what the issue is before finding a solution for it that meets with ACAS best practice guidelines and Employment Legislation.
Emma C Browning Ltd provides professional, commercial and practical HR solutions. If you have any absence issues within your business, then it’s important that you deal with them in the right way to avoid important discrimination laws. I can help you to resolve these issues sensitively and carefully, which will then allow you to focus on your business and help you to realise your full business potential.
To find out how I can help you, please contact me on 01280-848415/07766-741738 or via my website; www.emmacbrowning.com