Frequently Sick Employees
People are going to be off sick from time to time and most employees feel bad about letting down their colleagues, but how do you deal with frequently sick employees?
Absence because of sickness, or another unexpected reason, can put your business in a tricky situation, particularly if you have no policies in place for dealing with it. It can result in lost productivity and unhappy customers. It can adversely affect the other employee’s morale if the absent employee’s duties are added to the workloads of his or her colleagues. This may also leave you having to pay for both the absent worker and their temporary replacement.
A well–thought-out sickness policy, conducting return to work interviews and line manager training on dealing with sickness absence are helpful tools. You need to know why staff are off and when they will be back. Some of the types of absences you may have to deal with as an employer:
- short-term sickness absence which lasts less than a week
- repeated short-term sickness absences which may, or may not, follow a pattern
- unauthorised absence for other reasons.
And sickness absence can be caused by a mixture of:
- an employee’s general physical condition
- working conditions including health and safety standards, levels of stress, and harassment and bullying
- family or emotional problems, or mental health issues other than stress.
Frequent sickness absence can be dealt with by:
- ensuring you have a clear policy on absenteeism and communicating this to staff
- requiring absent employees to phone in by a given time on each day of absence
- having a return to work interview to ensure there are no underlying issues and discussing any problems the employee may have at work or at home
- taking disciplinary action if frequent sickness absence continues.
- monitoring individual absence levels and relaying this back to the member of staff concerned. Maybe using The Bradford Factor technique which is designed specifically to help manage frequent short term absence
- seeking medical opinions if necessary
Frequently sick employees need to be managed appropriately and if the absences persist after return to work interviews it is advisable to consider taking disciplinary action. However, you must remain alert to the possibility that frequent sickness episodes may have an underlying cause that could be a disability or a protected characteristic under the Equality Act 2010. If an employee informs you of a problem in the workplace, such as bullying or harassment by a colleague, as an employer, there is the potential that you, the employer, may be vicariously liable. In such circumstances we advise that you take reasonable steps to show you have dealt with the situation appropriately.
It is good practice that employees who have taken frequent sick leave be invited to a return to work interview to discuss the absence and whether there is any underlying cause or problem. This may encourage employees to voice their anxieties and request any help needed, as well as ensuring the sickness absence policy is used fairly and appropriately. Consideration must also be made in some workplaces where cover has been arranged for future days – if the sick employee returns to work without giving you notice leaving you over staffed, you are within you’re your rights to send the ‘sick’ employee home without pay if your absence policy allows this.
If you are an employer in the catering or health and social care sectors, you may wish to prevent any employee from returning to work for 24 to 48 hours after the last episode of sickness or diarrhoea to avoid contamination of food and cross infection.
Sickness prior to a disciplinary meeting
Should an employee’s absenteeism lead to a disciplinary and becomes unwell just before or on the day of the interview, it is good practice to make sure the employee’s ill health is properly accommodated and give them the opportunity to put forward their case. As an employer, you may wish to adjourn the proceedings at least once where the employee becomes unwell and what period of the adjournment is appropriate will depend on the circumstances. Often it is the disciplinary proceedings that are the source of the illness and delaying proceedings may only exacerbate things for the employee.
You may need to ask for advice from an occupational health practitioner to determine if the employee is fit enough to participate in the disciplinary process and on what adjustments, if any, may need to be made to accommodate their ill health. Whatever the reason is, as long as you have shown reasonable accommodation to deal with the employee’s sickness appropriately, any worker who may be suspected of ‘milking’ their illness can still be disciplined or dismissed for excessive time off work providing an appropriate procedure is followed.
If you want to know more about how to deal with frequently sick employees, give us a call and talk through your options – 01706 565332
Metis HR is a professional HR Consultancy based in the North West of England supporting clients across the country. We specialise in providing outsourced HR services to small and medium-sized businesses. Call us now on 01706 565332 to discuss how we may help you.