For every person who will only call in sick very occasionally when it’s absolutely necessary, there’ll be at least one who’ll think it’s ok to throw a sickie to bag themselves a long weekend.
You want to be able to trust your employees, but the thought that one of your people might be faking their sickness can be hard to take.
I’ll show you here how to deal with sickness absence pro-actively so that you don’t come across as a soft touch to those who might take advantage, whilst still being a caring employer.
It can be hard to know what to do with an employee who seems to be taking more than their fair share of sick days, particularly when you suspect they’re not being 100% truthful about their reasons for not coming in to work. I’ve seen this scenario played out more than a few times, and I know how tricky it can be for employers who’ve been used to taking a relaxed attitude because they’ve never had a problem with sickness absence.
There’s a lot you can do though to nip this sort of behaviour in the bud without having to resort to using your disciplinary procedure, just by setting the right tone and getting the right processes in place from the outset.
Of course, people do get ill, and no one would argue with them staying at home and looking after themselves until they’re well enough to return to work. You can still be a supportive employer - after all, the majority of sickness absences are for genuine reasons – but you can also show that you take sickness absence seriously.
Why it matters
There’s a cost attached to people not being at work; there’s the lost productivity, the disruption to the flow of work, and the pressure on colleagues who end up having to take up the extra slack.
According to the Office for National Statistics, roughly 137.3 million working days were lost in 2016 in the UK because of sickness absence or injury. This works out at 4.3 days per employee. Although this figure is lower than in previous years, sickness absence is still not something employers can afford to be too casual about.
My big 5 practical suggestions for keeping sickness absence levels in check
Record and monitor days off due to sickness
By recording the dates, duration and reasons for sickness absences, you’ll soon become aware of whether your business has a problem with sickness. If you don’t record time off for sickness, it’s easy to lose track, and if it’s written down it’s there in black and white. The facts don’t lie!
Remember though to make a distinction between short and long term absences. Someone taking 10 separate days off sick is quite a different situation to someone else taking a two-week period of absence.
Also, you’ll easily spot any patterns. For example, it will jump off the page at you if one of your people is always off sick on a Monday or Friday.
Make sure to record any pregnancy related sickness separately so it’s not counted as part of an overall sickness absence total.
Introduce ‘return to work meetings’
Sitting down and having a quick chat with your employees on their first day back after time off sick is a good idea for a few reasons. It helps you determine that they’re actually fit and well enough to be back at work. Plus, if the person is going through a tough time at home and it’s impacting them at work, you’ll hopefully pick this up and there might be something you can do to help them. Also, if you do have someone who thinks they can get away with pulling a cheeky sickie, they might think twice if they know they’ll have to discuss their absence with you face-to-face on their return.
The return to work meeting also provides the perfect opportunity to discuss an employee’s sickness record if you’re dealing with someone whose absence is creeping up and up. It can be a good opportunity to explain that you’re concerned and try and find out if there are any underlying reasons.
Text message or call in sick?
Think about how you want your employees to inform you if they’re not well enough to come in to work. Bear in mind that if you’re happy for your employees to do this by sending their line-manager a quick text message, it makes it far easier for someone to be off sick than if they actually have to call their line-manager and explain their absence over the phone. Making a phone call won’t phase your employees who are genuinely unwell, but it probably will for someone whose reasons aren’t so truthful.
Getting medical advice
If you’re getting a bit worried about the amount of days off sick one of your employees is clocking up, you could consider referring them to an occupational health practitioner or requesting a report from their GP to find out whether there’s an underlying reason. You will need to get express consent from your employee before you do this though. Remember also to be very specific about what you want to know and only ask questions about how their health and fitness relates to their job.
Have the right policies in place
A well written sickness absence policy is one of the employment policies all employers should have in place. It helps your employees to know what you expect of them and what they can expect from you. It also serves as a guide to line-managers and means you can feel more confident that your people are being treated fairly and consistently, which is really important!
Your sickness absence policy should be supported by a health and safety policy, as well as policies on flexible working and one that covers ‘time off for dependents’ and parental leave.
If your employees know that there are other types of leave available to them (dependent on their circumstances of course), and if they know that your business is supportive of flexible working, you’re basically opening up other avenues to help them balance their home and work commitments, and you might find that levels of sickness absence drop.
We all get ill from time to time and sickness absence is a given for all employers, but I hope you find these practical suggestions help stop the absence levels in your business slipping out of control.
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