Questions we answer in this guide:
- What's an absence management policy and why do you need one?
- What to do when an employee is absent from work due to long-term sickness?
- What other reasons are there for employees to be absent from work?
Employees will need to take days off now and then for health reasons. That’s generally unavoidable. But you’ll want to keep an eye on staff absences, to ensure it isn’t causing difficulties for your workforce or the productivity of your business as a whole.
When they're sick, employees may be able to rely on automatic legal rights (called statutory rights), to which they're entitled just because they are an employee.
For example, they have rights to statutory sick pay, if they've been off sick for more than 4 days in a row.
The best resource
Your absence management policy should underpin anything you do to handle staff going off sick. All businesses should have one, as soon as they start to employ people.
If you don't have one already, you can use Farillio's template to create one that suits your business requirements.
The template will steer you through the decisions you'll need to make and any options you need to consider.
Treat it like your handbook to managing employee sickness absences. In fact, you should keep it in your overarching staff handbook, together with all the other key policies that cover the operational and legal needs and duties of your businesses.
It is only applicable to employees.
Don't apply it to any other worker or supplier of services to your business.
If you do, you risk them being treated as an employee (by HMRC and the courts/a tribunal), which would award them all the additional rights that employees have over other workers and contractors - and trigger a bit of a hornet's nest in relation to your, and their, tax liabilities.
What does an absence management policy cover?
Your rules. The practical, logistical steps for what happens and when, that everyone in your business can follow.
Yes, there is a legal flavour to the document. But like almost all the documents in our business and employment policy suite, it has a huge practical emphasis.
You'll see it's not just about unexpected sicknesses, but also how employees should handle the practicalities around routine medical check-ups or appointments that affect their working hours.
In detail, your policy should cover:
mechanics of reporting sickness:
how the employee must report in their sickness
to whom they report, by what time, and what happens if they cannot reach that person
your employees' duty to self-certify their sickness for less than 7 days of absence, (using your designated form/reporting mechanism - more on that below)
longer term sickness arrangements: what you and they must do if they are going to be off-sick for a longer period
returning to work: the steps that you follow when an employee returns to work after a long period of sickness absence
sick pay: details about their entitlement to pay when they're off sick
contingencies and exit measures: your formal procedures for handling long term sickness absence, or frequent absences that an employee attributes to repeated bouts of illness
This should include (as our template does) your right to dismiss the employee on the grounds of long term sickness.
appeal process: how the employee can appeal an ultimate decision to dismiss them due to long term sickness.
(If you've proof or reasonable grounds for believing that sickness is not genuine, you should take advice.
In all likelihood, you'll need to handle those facts under your disciplinary policy instead.)
Other reasons for employee absences
While the majority of Farillio's template policy covers sickness absence, it also includes options for you to set out your position on absences from work for other reasons, such as jury service and family-related absences.
You can find these in Part III of the policy template.
Does the policy have contractual status?
This will depend on what you say in your employment contract(s) with your employees.
Our experts partners recommend that you do not give it contractual status in any employment contract that you put in place.
Instead, they advocate:
referring to all your policy documentation in that employment contract
making clear that the employee is expected to comply with the policy and
confirming that you have the right to update or revise this and any other policy, in your discretion and when you want to.
This is a highly practical approach
It means that you can update your polices as and when you need, without needing permission from your employees to do so.
Policies change relatively frequently - whether you're adjusting them for new legal developments, or accommodating changed business circumstances, e.g. revenue growth that might justify a more generous approach to your business' pay or benefits position.
The Farillio template includes the statutory requirements, as well as optional elements for you to consider.
The best approach
While in a lot of cases, employee absence will be legitimate and completely unavoidable, there are a few ways you can make it less likely in your business:
Check that all employees know of, and can easily refer to, your absence management policy
This includes knowing how:
- they should report their absence
- it will be recorded and dealt with
- much pay they’ll receive.
Review an employee's sickness status regularly
Ensure you’re both up-to-date on the situation. You don't want to pester them if they're feeling really poorly, but you do have a right to know how they're doing and whether there are any facts or details that you need to be aware of.
It's also fine to ask them when they think they will be better enough to return to work (assuming that their absence is not due to a serious illness or injury, where the assessment of that likelihood may not be immediately possible).
Your employee also needs to know and agree with you when they’ll be expected to be back at work. Your absence management policy will remind them of the procedures they need to follow to stay in touch with you, including their duty to complete the relevant forms or paperwork relating to their absence.
Give your employees appropriate support that could help their comfort and wellbeing at work.
Ensure relevant health and safety training has taken place for all employees and again, that they have access to the guidance and information they need.
A quick summary
For a quick overview of what to do when an employee calls in sick, take a look at our video soundbite below.
There are some handy tips and recommendations here.
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