HR Expert: The four stages of sickness absence management

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My client has been having an issue with employees’ sporadic short term absences, as they’re worried they’re not genuine. On Monday, a number of employees called in sick and this has prompted them to start looking at their sickness absence procedure to see if they could put in place measures to dissuade their staff from “pulling a sickie” and having time off when they are not genuinely unwell. Can you offer them any advice on what they could do?

The first Monday of February is the day when most people finally give way and decide to call in sick. As a result, it has been dubbed “National Sickie Day”. The term was first coined in 2011 by a British law firm, ELAS, after it published research showing that the first Monday in February is the most likely day for workers in the UK to call in sick.

Falling this year on 5 February, it is the day when employers can expect to receive calls complaining of colds, flu or even food poisoning although surveys suggest that the real reasons tend to be that people just feel tired or at least tired of going to work.

There are measures your client can put in place to combat “sickies” and putting them in place now will ensure they are well embedded for next year. One of those measures is a simple four step absence management process, that can be put into a sickness absence policy for employees to read and refer back to.

Stage one is notification. Allowing sickness absence notification in the form of emails, WhatsApp’s, text messages or even Facebook or Instagram messages can make it all too easy to fake an illness or injury. Generally it is found that requiring employees to make a phone call themselves (not getting a family member or friend to do it on their behalf) and actually speak to someone to notify of their absence is an effective deterrent against sickies. Employees should be asked to explain what is wrong, what they are doing to try and get better (for example, seeing a GP, pharmacist, nurse or other medical practitioner) and when they anticipate they might be able to return. They should also be asked to call in the next day if they are still unwell.

The next stage is the return to work meeting, to be held every time an employee returns to work after a sickness absence, as soon as possible on their first day back. This should take the form of a meeting, where the employee explains the reason for their absence, any medication or treatment they received and what actions they took (such as seeing their GP or bed rest). It should also be discussed whether the absence is expected to reoccur. Previous absences should also be discussed. If any patterns within the employee’s absence records are starting to emerge, such as always after annual leave, or always on Monday’s, this can also be investigated.

Stages three and four are closely linked with stage two. The return to work meeting is the chance to record the absence, what it was for and its duration. This record can then be examined alongside the employee’s previous absences (if there are any) and assessed for any obvious patterns that have developed, and if any concerns are evident the employees absences can be monitored moving forwards.

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