Managing absence is challenging for many employers. It involves striking a balance between supporting employees to stay in and return to work and taking consistent and fair disciplinary action against employees where necessary.
Below are the ten most common mistakes managers make when dealing with absence issues and how to avoid them. For information on training your managers to deal with absence issues more effectively watch our film.
1. Absence of a clear and definitive sickness policy/failure to appropriately refer to it.
Having a clear sickness policy and procedure can assist employers in dealing with absences consistently and effectively, as well as making employees aware of the standards of attendance and reporting that the employer expects from them.
2. Not obtaining evidence of sickness
An employer should request evidence from employees of their incapacity to work. This is usually a “self-certification” for absences of seven calendar days or less, or a doctor’s certificate for longer absences.
3. Lack of contact with employees during longer absences
Employers should maintain appropriate contact with employees on sick leave, demonstrating concern and offering support but avoiding overbearing contact or conduct that could cause distress.
4. Failure to review patterns of absence and keep a paper trail
Recording absences can help employers to monitor levels and patterns of absence so that any relevant procedures are invoked consistently. Notes of conversations or letters summarising action plans can act as evidence if an employer dismisses an employee on long-term sick leave for capability.
5. Making judgments if an employee who is signed off sick is not sitting at home
Whilst a sick employee is still obliged to obey lawful and reasonable orders of its employer (except to the extent that the employee’s incapacity make compliance impossible), this does not give the employer absolute control over the employee’s activities whilst signed off sick. The fact that an employee is able on occasion to go out and enjoy themselves should not in itself mean that they are fit for work or acting dishonestly.
6. Omission of return to work interviews
Return to work interviews following a period of sickness act as an opportunity to raise any concerns related to health or sickness, which may in turn prevent future absences. ACAS recommends return to work interviews in all cases but some employers may only hold them in cases of longer absences.
7. Failure to consider reasonable adjustments
Adjustments may be useful in rehabilitating an employee following long term sickness absence, or a recurring illness/disability. Making appropriate adjustments can also demonstrate an employer’s duties under the Equality Act 2010 in the case of a disabled employee. Adjustments could include a phased return to work, alteration of duties or purchasing specialist equipment.
8. Underusing occupational health/medical experts
Employers should consider requesting that an absent employee attend an examination with an independent specialist doctor or occupational health expert. Once in receipt of a medical report, an employer can be better advised to act in accordance with any recommendations.
9. Misconception about dismissing a sick employee
An employer should deal with matters formally when the absence levels present an unacceptable disruption to the business, whether it is a long term absence or a series of short term absences. This should involve holding formal meetings and carrying out an investigation into the cause and likely length of absence.
10. Miscalculation of sick pay
An employer should refer to the employment contract or sickness policy to assess an employee’s sick pay entitlement. Pay may vary where an employee is working non-standard hours/having a phased return to work (a day on which work is done would not count as a day of incapacity for statutory sick pay purposes). Caution should also be taken over the correct notice pay due to an employee who is given notice to terminate their employment whilst on sick leave.
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