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  • Writer's pictureAlfio Bonanno

Navigating Sickness Absence: A Step-By-Step Guide

The Impact Of Sickness Absence

In the dynamic world of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), sickness absence can pose significant challenges. According to the Office for National Statistics, the average number of sickness absence days in the UK has been falling steadily, from seven days per year in the mid-1990s to 4.6 days in 2021. However, this doesn't mean the issue is less important. In fact, it's quite the contrary.

The Health and Safety Executive reports that an estimated 38.8 million working days were lost due to work-related ill health and non-fatal workplace injuries in 2021/22. This has a substantial impact on productivity, with businesses having to cover for absent employees or deal with reduced output.

Moreover, a survey conducted by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) found that almost half of employees went to work despite not feeling well enough to fulfil their duties. This phenomenon, known as presenteeism, can lead to decreased productivity and potentially exacerbate health issues, leading to longer periods of absence in the future.

Managing Sickness Absence Step-By-Step

In light of these challenges, it's crucial for small businesses to effectively manage sickness absence. Here's a step-by-step guide on how to do so:

1. Develop a Clear Sickness Absence Policy: A clear policy helps both the employer and the employee understand what is expected when sickness absence occurs. This policy should include details about how to report sickness absence, the procedures for sick pay, and the process for returning to work. It's crucial to ensure that this policy is communicated effectively to all employees.

2. Maintain Regular Communication: Regular contact with the employee during their sickness absence can help manage the situation effectively. This communication should be sensitive and supportive, focusing on the employee's wellbeing and recovery. It's also an opportunity to discuss any adjustments or support that might be needed for their return to work.

3. Use Return-to-Work Interviews: Conducting a return-to-work interview after every sickness absence can help identify any underlying issues that might be causing frequent absences. It's also a chance to discuss any support or adjustments needed. These interviews should be conducted in a supportive and open manner.

4. Implement Reasonable Adjustments: If an employee is struggling with their health, consider making reasonable adjustments to their work or workplace. This could include changes to their working hours, duties, or the physical environment. These adjustments can often help the employee return to work more quickly and reduce the likelihood of future absences.

5. Seek Medical Advice: In some cases, it might be necessary to seek medical advice to understand the employee's health condition and its impact on their work. This could involve referring the employee to an occupational health service or asking for a report from their GP. Remember to obtain the employee's consent before seeking medical information.

6. Manage Long-Term Sickness Absence: Long-term sickness absence can be particularly challenging to manage, due to legal complexities. It's important to maintain regular communication, make reasonable adjustments, and seek medical advice. In some cases, it might be necessary to consider whether the employee is capable of returning to their role and whether other roles or duties would be more suitable.

7. Understand the Legal Obligations: Employers have legal obligations when managing sickness absence, including the duty not to discriminate against disabled employees and the duty to make reasonable adjustments under the Equality Act 2010. Failure to meet these obligations could result in legal action, so it's important to understand and comply with these requirements.

8. Monitor and Review: Regularly monitor and review sickness absence levels to identify any trends or issues. This can help you identify if there are particular areas of the business or specific employees who have high levels of sickness absence.

9. Training and Support: Ensure that managers have the necessary training and support to manage sickness absence effectively. This should include training on conducting return-to-work interviews, making reasonable adjustments, and understanding the legal obligations.

10. Promote a Healthy Workplace: Promoting a healthy workplace can help to reduce sickness absence. This could include initiatives to promote physical health, mental health, and wellbeing.

Remember, managing sickness absence effectively can help to reduce the impact on your business and support your employees' health and wellbeing. However, it's also a complex area with many legal considerations, so it's often helpful to seek professional advice.

Useful Resources:

How EthosHR can help

At EthosHR Consulting, we understand the complexities of managing sickness absence, especially for small businesses.

We provide expert guidance and support to help you navigate this challenging area. Our services include developing clear and effective sickness absence policies, training managers on best practices, and guiding on legal obligations and reasonable adjustments within specific cases.

We also understand the importance of promoting a healthy workplace. Our team can help you implement initiatives to support the physical and mental health of your employees, ultimately reducing sickness absence and increasing productivity.

In addition, we can assist with the management of long-term sickness absence, including maintaining regular communication with the employee, making reasonable adjustments, and seeking medical advice when necessary.

By partnering with EthosHR Consulting, you can ensure that your business is effectively managing sickness absence, supporting your employees, and complying with all legal obligations. Contact us today to learn more about how we can support your business.

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