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Managing Absence – Long Term Sickness

Managing employee absence is no doubt a major headache for employers and more recently here at ProAktive, we have noticed an increase in calls regarding employees who are on long term sick. There are multiple reasons why there has been an increase in these calls, but it’s clear that businesses in the UK are now back to some sort of ‘normality’ following Covid. Workloads are subsequently increasing meaning that it is more noticeable when an employee has been absent for a significant period of time and those in management are in a better position to start investigating and dealing with these absences.

The difficulty with managing long term sickness is that it often takes a back seat as the person responsible for dealing with the absences usually has other responsibilities which are business critical. This is especially the case when there isn’t a dedicated HR function or HR Manager within the business.

When we talk about long term sickness, this usually means absences that last over 28 days (1 month) which also means that by this point there is a sick note/doctor’s note on file. From an employer’s point of view, it can also be difficult to decide when a long term sickness becomes an issue and when to start a formal process to manage the employee back to work.

Due to the factors already mentioned, it’s important to consider each absence on an individual basis. For example, if someone is undergoing planned routine surgery and has an estimated recovery time, providing they continue to follow your absence procedure and keep in contact with the business, then a few courtesy calls may be all that is required. However, when it is not clear as to what the reasons for absence are or when there isn’t a clear date as to when the employee will return, this is where it may be useful to engage with the employee on a more formal basis.

One of the options to engage with employees during their absence is to hold welfare meetings with them. Dependent on the employee’s ailment this could either be at the workplace, at a neutral location, their home address or even via video call/telephone, whatever is most suitable for their situation. If absences move past the 3 month period, this is usually when we would recommend seeking some form of medical evidence. This could be a report from the GP or through occupational health. If it looks likely that an employee may not be able to return to work, this medical evidence will be crucial and necessary in order to progress a situation.

The main goal is usually to support an employee’s return to work and therefore consideration should be given to reasonable adjustments or alterations to a working pattern/responsibilities that could allow the employee to return. Examples of this could include phased return, alterations to equipment or reduction in duties. For all employees on long term sick, we would also recommend keeping in regular contact and conducting a return to work meeting on their first day back.

Managing absence is a headache and can be time consuming, and there are also discriminatory factors to be taken into consideration when making decisions around an absent employee’s ability to work or return to work. At ProAktive HR Support, we are on hand to help guide you through the pit falls surrounding employee absence in a pragmatic way.

To speak to a member of our HR Support team, call 01302 341 344.

By Kris Kerins BSc (Hons) Assoc CIPD HR Business Partner CQI & IRCA ISO 9001: Lead Auditor



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