It’s a fact of life that people get sick and will need time off from work.
Any organisation worth its salt will build a contingency for absence into its day-to-day operation and have policies in place to make sure absences are managed properly.
And yet this is still an area where companies and their staff often come into conflict.
But if you follow a few basic guidelines that need not be the case.
There are two broad types of absence.
Planned absence is something the employer knows about in advance such as maternity leave and holidays. This should be pretty straightforward to manage so long as you have the correct procedures in place for booking such leave.
Unplanned – or unauthorised – absence can be a little more tricky. This takes the form of illness, domestic emergencies and travel disruption, where the employer is given no warning that a member of staff will not be at work.
In all cases, it is good practice for the employee to contact the workplace as soon as practicable to let them know they will be absent. If this has not happened, it is not unreasonable for an employer to try to contact the member of staff. If they still cannot be contacted, the manager should speak to them as soon as they return to work to gain an explanation for the absence.
If a worker is off for seven days or less through sickness, they can self-certify their absence. This essentially means they tell their manager they are not well enough to work but do not need to provide any medical evidence.
But if the absence lasts longer than seven days the worker must obtain a fit note – a medical statement from a GP or hospital giving details of what an employee is able to do at work, rather than what they cannot.
If the doctor suggests that the worker is fit for work, he can recommend ways that may help make a return to the workplace less stressful, including amended duties, flexible working or a phased return.
These recommendations should be followed by the employer, otherwise the worker can remain off sick for the period the fit note covers.
Any worker on at least the lower earning limit is eligible for Statutory Sick Pay once they have been absent for four or more days in a row. The current rate is £92.05/week and it is payable for 28 weeks. A company cannot offer contractual sick pay at below this rate.
In cases of long-term absence it is essential for there to be regular contact between a manager and the employee. The amount of contact should be agreed and should focus on the employee’s wellbeing, support and any changes within the business.
It’s also vital that a Return to Work meeting is scheduled before the employee reports back for duty to allow the chance for an informal discussion about what shape that return should take and how the company can help make it as smooth as possible.