Recent ACAS releases have introduced fresh guidelines with a broad impact on various aspects of workforce management. These guidelines encompass:
- Confirmation of holiday entitlement and sick pay.
- Management of fit notes and proof of sickness.
- Oversight of time off for dependants/parents.
- Protocols for employees‘ reintegration after periods of absence.
- Development of comprehensive absence policies.
- Approaches for documenting and mitigating sickness absence.
- Definition and handling of absence trigger points.
In response to these recently updated recommendations, it becomes pivotal for employers to conduct a comprehensive evaluation of their current procedures and protocols concerning sickness absence. Persistent cases of short-term or long-term sickness absences can result in substantial financial burdens for any organisation. While achieving complete elimination of such absences may pose challenges, implementing effective management strategies can significantly curtail their impact on colleagues and the overall business.
Sickness Absence Recording and Monitoring
Within your organisation, it is imperative to have a robust system for accurately logging sickness absences, be it through manual or electronic means. Recognise that the count of sick days continues uninterrupted, encompassing weekends, public/bank holidays, and non-working days. The final day of sickness coincides with the day preceding the employee‘s expected return to work. Typically, any sickness absence extending beyond 21 days qualifies as long-term.
Paying meticulous attention to upholding secure records pertaining to an employee’s sickness absence, inclusive of medical certificates, remains a paramount priority. Restrict access to authorised personnel only.
For instances of sickness absences that span seven days or less, where self-certification suffices, it is crucial to establish a resilient process ensuring prompt completion and documentation of these certificates. Beyond the eighth day of sickness, the requirement shifts to a medical certificate, validating the absence until the employee’s fitness for work is confirmed. Implement protocols that assure the timely receipt of these certificates, along with subsequent ones, while serving as a reminder to employees regarding their obligation to furnish valid certification for sickness absence.
Return to Work Meetings
Following an employee’s re-entry from any duration of sickness absence, conducting a return to work meeting with the respective line manager becomes indispensable. These meetings serve several pivotal functions:
- Enhancing Working Relations: The manager conveys genuine concern for the employee’s well-being, reinforcing their role within the team.
- Assessing Fitness for Work: The employer’s duty of care necessitates a comprehensive evaluation to ensure readiness for full duties.
- Accommodating Reasonable Adjustments: In cases of prolonged sick leave, employees may have recommendations from their GP or Occupational Health, necessitating adjustments such as modified working hours or conditions. Managers should promptly act on these recommendations.
- Monitoring Absences: For employees with sporadic sick days, these meetings provide an opportunity to address the issue and inform them about impending formal actions or objectives for minimising sickness absence.
- Promoting Wellbeing: These meetings offer a platform to remind employees of the company’s wellbeing initiatives, including employee assistance programs and Mental Health First Aiders.
Managing Long-term Sickness Absence
Dealing with extended sickness absences can be protracted and challenging. Managers should understand the importance of handling these cases correctly to mitigate the risk of future employment tribunal claims. HR guidance should be sought for managing long-term sickness cases.
Once it becomes evident that an employee’s absence will exceed 21 days, managers should establish regular contact with the employee, at a minimum every two weeks, through email or phone communications.
In addition to routine contact, managers should endeavour to conduct formal, face-to-face meetings with the employees to discuss their sickness absence and explore avenues for their return to work. These meetings can be conducted remotely if the employee‘s health prevents physical attendance and should be scheduled at least monthly throughout the absence. Employees may opt for a colleague or trade union representative to accompany them to these meetings. Managers can also seek guidance from the company’s Occupational Health provider regarding the likelihood of the employee’s return to work and necessary adjustments.
If, after a six-month period, the employee remains incapable of returning to work and medical reports indicate no near-future return, managers may initiate the capability process on health grounds, which could ultimately lead to the employee’s dismissal. HR should play an integral role in guiding and supporting this process throughout.
If you have any inquiries or concerns regarding any of the topics discussed in this article, please feel free to reach out to our dedicated Employment Law experts by calling 01206 239 761.