Absence of more than 4 weeks is often defined as long-term sickness absence. In some cases an employee’s absence can continue month after month. But how do employers manage this absence in a positive and pro-active way that benefits the business and the employee?
Here are 5 tips for managing long-term sickness absence:
- Make sure you have a sickness absence policy. Any policy you have should include: absence notification requirements; sick pay applicable and what the qualifying criteria is; expectations regarding contact with the employee during sickness; an absence review process and how long-term absence will be dealt with.
- Introduce an Ill Health Capability procedure. This will enable you to manage an employee’s long-term absence through a fair and transparent process.
- Maintain regular communication with the employee. Contrary to popular belief it is rarely appropriate to cease contact with an employee while they are off sick. Limit this contact to business updates and enquiries regarding the employee’s health. You should put no pressure on the employee to return or deal with work during their absence. A supportive and empathetic approach should be taken, focussed on their wellbeing and what you can do to support them. This will support their ongoing engagement with the business and hopefully a productive return to work.
- Consider the steps you need to take to support the remainder of the team during the employee’s absence. This will reduce any potential resentment about additional workload. The danger is that resentment builds and is directed at the absent employee, making their return to work difficult. Carry out regular check-ins with the team to enable you to address any issues they share.
- Ensure you follow the policies you have in place correctly. Put milestone dates in the diary to prompt actions under the policies and procedures to ensure you stay on track. For example: the date the current fit note expires; next planned contact date and why; when Company and Statutory sick pay expires, and the stages of the Ill Health Capability procedure.
Although every situation is different, you will be best placed for success if you have these basics in place. The worst-case scenario is that you get it wrong and receive an employment tribunal claim against you alleging disability discrimination. In addition to this, the employee may be disengaged even if they do return, therefore they are unlikely to be productive. The alternative is that they ‘disappear into the ether’, making it difficult to resolve the situation one way or another.