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January Blues

12th January 2012

We get a lot of calls about sickness absence, especially in January. So, to help with any January Blues out there we thought we would set out 5 top tips for managing this touchy issue.

1. Do not let lack of time or worries stop you monitoring and managing.

Sickness absence needs to be monitored and managed. Sometimes employers are very wary about managing employee sickness, or feel they just don't have time. Employers are concerned about disability discrimination claims or being accused of harassing sick employees. While these issues always need to be considered, it is important that fear of them does not prevent effective management of sickness absence.

2. Monitoring is vital.

It is important that you know who has been off sick, and for how long. This can alert you to any problems with employees or in the workplace and, if you identify any issues, you can then go on to address them appropriately. Employers should always keep accurate, written records of sickness absence.

If sick leave is monitored, it can be useful to look at any patterns of sick leave applying to a particular employee or to the workforce as a whole. For example, regular absences on Monday or Friday, or higher levels of absence after pay day might be an indicator that sick leave is being abused.

3. Policies and Procedures.

Employers should have clear and appropriate policies and procedures dealing with sick leave and sick pay. It is important that these policies are followed, because if they are not it can cause significant problems if you want to enforce them later. For example, if the employer does not enforce a policy that, unless there is a very good reason, the employee must phone in by a certain time if they are sick it becomes difficult to discipline that employee for not following that procedure.

Another common issue is lack of clarity when applying discretionary sick pay policies. For example, generous employers who have discretionary sick pay policies, but have always fully paid employees who are off sick can find it difficult to stop making those payments. If an employer makes such payments it is important it is clear that any payment is discretionary and may not continue.

4. Consider each case appropriately.

For example, short term and long term sickness absence needs to be treated differently. You may want to consider having different policies for regular short term and long term absences. You need to be careful to handle each case sensitively and appropriately and to think carefully about how you apply your sickness procedures. Sometimes a "one size fits all" approach is appropriate, but it is always safest to look at each employee's issues and consider their particular situation.

5. Try and understand the underlying cause of any absence.

Key to managing sickness absence is understanding the underlying cause of the absence. It is vital than an employer understands whether the employee has just been ill, or whether he or she has a disability (in which case different rules apply, including the requirement to make reasonable adjustments), a problem at home or work that is causing them to take excessive time off, or is abusing the ability to take sick leave. This means that you can then manage the situation appropriately. For example, if the underlying cause of the absence is a problem at home, it could be more appropriately dealt with as compassionate leave rather than sickness absence.

We consider some of the questions we're often asked about sickness absence (and say a brief word about the latest government review on the subject) in our podcast – you can listen here.




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