While the fact that sickness absence is reducing has to be good news for employers (http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/feedarticle/9115226), absence still has a significant cost to all organisations in both the private and public sector, and there is still a need for it to reduce much further. Genuine or not, absence costs money – in terms of sick pay, lost productivity and the need to arrange cover, often at short notice. Clearly if people are ill, they should not be at work, but unfortunately there will always be some who play the system.
But what the news doesn’t tell us is that there are measures employers can take to reduce ‘sickies’ in their organisation:
- Monitor absence
This sounds obvious, but unless you have a system where absences (and the reasons for them) are properly recorded, you will not be able to spot patterns of absence and investigate them further. For example, do you have a member of staff who frequently calls in sick on a Monday morning?
- Talk to your staff
As always, communication is key – it may be that there is an underlying reason for the absence that you are able to address. Many organisations have found it beneficial for managers to conduct return to work interviews with staff after any period of absence – in fact, the meetings themselves can deter people taking ‘sickies’.
- Consider the reason
If the absence relates to pregnancy, or to other statutory rights such as time off for dependents, then it is best to take legal advice before taking any action.
The new so-called “fit notes” will only apply to absences of 7 calendar days or more, so they will not usually be relevant for short-term ‘sickie’ type absences. But the information given on fit notes will of course be relevant to how you deal with longer term absence.
Similarly if the absence relates to a condition which could qualify as a disability under the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA), then you will need to take that into account. The DDA requires you to make reasonable adjustments for a disabled person, which could include (for example) a change to their working hours.
In some circumstances where you think an employee may be repeatedly feigning illness, it might be worth getting a medical report – your employee will need to consent to this, and you will need to give clear instructions to the doctor on what you want the report to cover.
- Follow a fair procedure
However you decide to deal with excessive short-term absence, it is important that you follow a fair and consistent procedure. It may be appropriate to take the employee through a series of warnings if the absences continue, eventually leading to dismissal. It is a popular misconception that an employer cannot take action if the reason for the absence is genuine – although the employer does have to consider all the circumstances, it is not true to say that they cannot deal with such absences under a fair procedure. Dealing with those who take excessive short term sickness absences will deter any others thinking of doing the same.
If you would like to talk through a situation you are dealing with, or if you need advice on any aspect of employment law, please contact any member of the Pure Employment Law team (01243 836840 or [email protected])