Category Archives: sickness procedure

Effective Sickness Absence Management Tools

Sickness absence costs the UK millions each year. Managing sickness absence can be challengingsickness absence management and needs employer commitment to tackling the issue.  Here we provide some effective sickness absence management tools which are essential in the battle against sickness absence.

If you don’t measure sickness how do you know you’ve got a problem.  Of course if you are a small business with only a handful of employees the effect of one of your employees being sick will be obvious.  Apart from the cost there will be lost productivity and possibly low morale on the employees holding the fort.  However, if you are a larger business with a lot more employees the effect of sickness absence might not be so clear.

An HR information system can be a huge bonus in measuring sickness absence.  Based on the inputted data from sick days reports can be produced for discussion at senior management team meetings.  Here problematic members of staff can be highlighted and dealt with appropriately, whether it is regular intermittent absence or long term sickness.  The main point to remember is that sickness absence management needs to be dealt with.  There should also be a sickness absence procedure in place that gives clear guidelines as to how sickness absence will be dealt with.

Employees who are off sick should be required to phone into their line manager on the first day of sickness within one hour of their shift.  They should personally phone in and should not be allowed to text or send an email.  If the sickness absence continues the line manager should stay in touch with the employee to monitor progress.  The employee should be phoning in on a regular basis or the line manager should phone the employee.

On the employee’s return to work, a return to work interview should be conducted by the line manager to check the employee is ok to return, to discuss what has happened whilst the employee has been off work and to ensure they take responsibility for their attendance at work.

If the employee fails to return to work you should consider getting an occupational health assessment to help you manage the situation.  This may mean implementing some work place adjustments to allow the employee to return to work.   When they are ready to return to work, you need to agree a return to work place then coordinate that process.

National Sickie Day

National Sickie Day

Courtesy David Castillo Dominici/Free Digital Images

Today, the first Monday in February, is traditionally known as National Sickie Day as on this day the greatest number of employees phone in sick.  Last year over 350,000 employees did so.  With the consistently grey and wet weather that does nothing to lift the spirits many people will feel like having a day off to lengthen their weekend.

Sickness absence in the UK costs employers millions of pounds and needs to be tackled.  The costs can include sick pay, salaries, lost overtime, reduced service and lost business.

Many employees are allowed to email or text their bosses that they are not coming into work due to sickness.  Sickness absence policies should clearly state that the employee should phone in and speak to their manager within an hour of their shift starting and should not text or email  The employee should not be allowed to let someone else phone in for them.  The idea behind this, is that if someone is swinging the lead they might feel embarrassed to speak to their manager and tell a lie about their situation.  Hopefully they will think twice about calling in sick.

Research done by ELAS last year highlighted a number of odd excuses for sickness absence:

  • A worker called to say he couldn’t come in because his girlfriend’s sister was having a baby. A follow up call by the employer to verify this revealed that there was no girlfriend (and therefore no sister or baby)
  • A woman called to say she couldn’t come in because she had been play fighting with her boyfriend and hurt her finger as a result
  • A worker called to say they couldn’t make it to work that day because their car exhaust has fallen off on the driveway
  • One man said he only had one pair of work trousers and that they were wet because his mum has washed them, so he couldn’t make it into the office
  • Another person said they needed new tyres on their car and it would otherwise be illegal for them to drive to work
  • One person said they couldn’t afford to put petrol in their car to get to work
  • One person said the weather was too bad to cycle to work while another said they were too tired to cycle to work
  • One employee took a leave of absence after saying his grandfather had died. The company’s HR manager knew the family and bumped into the grandfather, who was very much alive and well, at the supermarket. The worker was dismissed as a result

It is important to do return to work interviews when the employee comes back.  The employer can then check that the employee is ok following their absence and there are no lingering problems.  The employer should then discuss any work issues that have occurred whilst the employee has been off sick then clearly make sure they know they have to take responsibility for their attendance.

If the sickness absence problem continues employers should consider taking formal action and use an occupational health advisor support to manage the issue.


Extreme Sports – The Employment Stance

extreme sports

“Image courtesy of franky242 /”

At the weekend I watched a programme on Channel 4 called Don’t Look Down ( where the practice of young people climbing such things as very tall cranes without safety wires, known as urban free climinbing, was featured  With graphic filming of what it is like to be 100 feet or more in the air, which made me feel physically sick as I do not like heights, clearly the people being filmed were enjoying the thrill and exhilaration.

Apparently the craze started in Russia and has now spread to the UK.  Whilst there have yet been no deaths from this bizarre sport in the UK, only time will tell whether they will remain a zero statistic.  Of course, whilst this is an extreme sport, many employees take part in other sports which can be dangerous, such as racing, skiing, rugby, horse riding, snowboarding, mountain climbing, all of which carry the risk of something going wrong.  These issues lead to the consideration of what stance employers can take if their employees partake in extreme or dangerous sports particularly with the risk of accident, disability or death.

The consequences of an employee being off due to sickness absence after taking part in an extreme or dangerous sport will be the cost to an employer.  Depending on the length of sickness absence, the employer will have to pay out SSP or occupational sick pay and possibly recruit a temporary member of staff to cover workload if the absence is to continue for several months.  To protect themselves an employer can add a caveat into an employment contract or employee handbook so that if an employee has an accident due to their leisure pursuits the employer is not liable for sick pay.  If existing terms and conditions are being changed in this manner it is important to consult and get agreement with the workforce.  A policy related to a death in service benefit may also be treated in the same manner.

Employees at risk of not being paid sick pay should they have an accident can take out personal insurance.

Management of any long term sickness problem due to the taking part in extreme sports needs to be handled carefully.  Any injuries sustained will be because of the employee’s failure to manage the situation correctly and may not be a capability issue.  Therefore the employer may consider the use of the disciplinary procedure for this conduct issue if the employee is unable to return to work.  If the employee has become disabled through their sporting activities the employer will need to ensure there is  no discrimination


Coup de Bleus – Coping With Depression in the Workplace

depression in the workplace

Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici/

The French First Lady Valerie Trierweiler has been in the news for entering hospital with a “coup de bleus” after the announcement of Francois Hollande, the french president’s affair with a french actress.  Coup de bleus means a touch of the blues or depression.  Whilst it is usually rare for someone to go into hospital for such a condition, it can have a huge impact on those who suffer from the medical condition.  Employers need to understand about coping with depression in the workplace.

January is a depressing time of the year anyway after the colourful festivities of Christmas and the New Year, the weather is cold and grey and the shops full of dowdy sale items.   20 January this year was declared to be Blooming Monday as the third Monday in January is declared to be the most depressing day of the year.  The long hot summer days certainly do seem far away.  To combat the effect workers are being encouraged to wear bright clothes on this day –

Seasonal affective disorder is a temporary condition linked to the low light levels in and winter (mainly December, January and February) in the UK and is one of a range of disorders related to depression.  The symptoms are low mood, lack of interest in life, less activity than normal and sleeping more than usual.  It can be treated by sitting in front of a light box, cognitive behaviourial therapy and/or anti  depressants.  More information

Another type of depression related condition is bipolar disorder.  An employee with this condition can be difficult to manage due to the nature of the condition and I have supported several clients in this area. Bi polar disorder is characterised by fluctuating moods between mania and depression. An employee with the condition can be disruptive, failing to follow instructions and making mistakes.

Anxiety disorders can be manifested by restlessness, fatigue, difficulty in concentrating and excess worrying.  Employees will seek constant reassurance about their performance.

 It is important to manage depression-related conditions in the workplace as the condition is linked to sickness absence and poor productivity which can impact on the bottom line. Individuals with depression are more likely to lose their jobs due to conduct and capability issues.  Statistics show they are more likely to keep changing their jobs.

It is important for employers to keep on top of any depression related condition with an employee.  Regular documented meetings to discuss the situation are needed and enlisting the help of a good occupational therapist is vital to manage depression related conditions if they become serious.  An occupational health report can help reduce sickness absence and can help support a capability programme.  An occupational health advisor is preferable to approaching the employee’s GP for a report as occupational health will be working in your favour whereas the GP will be working in favour of the employee.  It is important to try and manage the employee to get them back to working normally.  If ultimately dismissal is on the cards a report can be invaluable should an employment tribunal claim be pursued.


Understanding The Access to Medical Records Act

In sickness absence management it is important that employers investigate the situation fully which will include gaining access to medical records.  In the majority of cases this will be so they can provide support to the employee to enable them to return to work, possibly with reasonable adjustments if they are classed as disabled under the Equality Act.  In other cases, it may be to consider ill health termination or disciplinary action if the employee has not been truthful with regards the reasons behind their absence.

The Access to Medical Records Act allows an employer to gain access to those medical records with the full permission of the employee.  If an employer has a situation where the employee refuses to comply with such a request, then they must make a decision on their ongoing employment based purely on the information to hand.  If an employee has high sickness absence and refuses to allow access to their medical records then a possible outcome could be dismissal.

An employer can use a medical professional to gain a report on the employee’s medical condition and its long term prognosis, to find out whether they are classed as disabled and may need reasonable adjustments for example.   Whilst the employee’s GP can be approached, they will be only interested in the best interests of their patient and the information they may provide may be lacking for the employer.  An occupational health advisor, on the other hand, will work in the best interests of the employer and provide a well rounded report so the employer can take action.

The employee should provide written consent to a report being produced on their medical condition and agree to a possible medical examination.  The process should be open and transparent with the employee fully involved.  They have the right to see the report before it is provided to the employer and have 21 days to so.  They can amend the report if they do  not agree with certain aspects that could be misleading or are incorrect.  If the medical professional refuses to amend the report the employee can withdraw consent that the report is provided to the employer or may add their own written explanation to be attached to the report.


Is Sickness Absence Damaging Your Business?

Sickness absence costs the UK billions every year and has a huge impact on profits.  Two  sickness absence situations that have been in the press recently show the implications for handling sickness absence badly.    Sickness absence cost Birmingham City Council £35m last year with sickness rates running at almost double the national average.  The main reasons were anxiety, stress and depression. 
In another case a nurse working for North Wales police lead a department where 200 sickness days had been lost in three years.  She herself had had 69 days off in three years, 24 in one year.  When the nurse was challenged about her high sickness rates she claimed she had throat cancer.  This was not investigated thoroughly until managers got suspicious that her high sickness continued after she had supposedly had an operation.    
Both these cases were in the public sector where, in general, across the UK absence levels are one third higher than that in the private sector.  By tackling the problems tax payers’ money could be saved.   Given that public sector organisations have a well staffed HR department and access to an occupational health service, perhaps the lack of management initiative in dealing with these situations is at fault. 
The aim of any sickness procedure would be to get the employee back to working normally and if that cannot happen then consideration to termination of employment.  The sickness procedure needs to be fair.      
Sickness absence, whether intermittent or long term, can be dealt with quite easily and fairly following a few simple guidelines along with documented meetings.  The main point is to deal with it quickly.  Management commitment is essential.  Turning a blind eye will not help; there will be an impact on morale as other employees watch a colleague not being dealt with and, in my experience, a sickness absence situation will only get worse.
Small companies certainly cannot afford to allow a sickness absence case to linger at huge cost to the business. 
Getting good advice on handling a sickness absence case is essential in case there might be underlying disability issues which need to be dealt with correctly to avoid disability discrimination.