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Best practice in managing sickness absence

According to EEF’s Sickness Absence Survey, the South West had the highest levels of sickness absence per person in any region in the UK in 2015 (5.6 days) although sickness absence levels in this region were the lowest in the UK by 2016 (4.5 days).

However promising these statistics may seem, sickness
absence management remains perhaps one of the most challenging personnel issues
and can be particularly worrying for small businesses.


To help you manage absence, it is vital that you have a
sickness absence policy in place. This policy should include information on
what is expected from employees when they are ill (eg, how they should report
absence). You should consider the following when creating sickness absence


1. Recording sickness


By recording sickness absence, you will be able to ensure
that staff are paid accurately when they are off sick and identify any
potential patterns of absence (e.g. regular absences on the same day of the
week). As this requires the processing of sensitive data, you will need to
ensure that you are meeting the requirements of the Data Protection Act (DPA)


2. Keeping in contact
with absent employees


Keeping in contact with employees who are off sick helps
them to feel valued, and can help them to return to work sooner. Line managers
will usually be the ones who keep in contact with absent employees, as they are
likely to know the member of staff better.


3. Return to work


Return to work interviews, even after short periods of
absence, are a good way to welcome employees back to the workplace and ensure
that they are well enough to work. Return to work interviews also provide a
good opportunity to discuss any adjustments that need to be made to help an
employee in their return to work.


4. Short-term
sickness absence


Short-term absence (defined
by NICE as less than four weeks
) can be more difficult to deal with than
long-term absence. Some employers find that it can be hard to find appropriate
cover when staff are off without prior warning. Repeated intermittent
short-term absence that isn’t addressed head-on can also affect the morale of
other staff members with good attendance.


As an employer, you also need to be careful that you
do not discriminate against any employees who have a condition covered by the
Equality Act 2010. However, employees who are repeatedly absent and have no significant
underlying health issues should be made aware that an improvement in their
attendance is expected.


5. Long-term sickness


When an employee is absent for four weeks or more, you may
not only be concerned about the wellbeing and health of your employee, but also
about your organisation’s productivity and profits.


In cases where a return to work is viable, you may make some
adjustments to the employee’s job role or the workplace. These adjustments may
include temporarily amending work hours, duties, or the provision of more
support and supervision. For those where fatigue is still an issue, a phased
return may help a person return more quickly and successfully.


Another way to help employees who have been on long-term
sickness absence is to refer them, with their consent, to Fit for Work  for an occupational health assessment. Where
appropriate, this assessment will result in a Return to Work Plan, which
provides recommendations and a step-by-step guide to returning to work.

Blog supplied by Chris Rhodes, Chief Nursing Officer at Fit for Work. 

Fit for Work can provide advice on the above, or other work-related health issues. To find out more about how the service can help you manage sickness absence, visit or call 0300 221 0280.

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