Dealing with an employee taking excessive sick leave can be a pretty difficult task for any business, but even more so when you’re an SME. It can be an unpredictable, time-consuming process that can be open to abuse by staff. But to ensure that’s not the case, it’s down to you to manage the situation effectively and nip it in the bud, for the sake of your employee and your business.
Here’s how to ensure that excessive sickness absence (to give its official title) doesn’t become a major problem and start to affect business performance…
Make sure you’ve got a well-drafted sickness absence policy
You’ll thank yourself for it. Having a well drafted policy helps you to deal with absences consistently and effectively. It’ll make employees aware of the standards of attendance and reporting that you expect from them; after all – if you’re not setting the standard, then who is? Without a solid sickness absence policy to refer to, you’re not setting off on the best foot when you need to call-in Vicky from operations for her return to work interview (more on that in a minute). Basically, you need to ensure your ‘rule book’ – aka your staff handbook – is up to date and operationally effective.
Monitor absences properly
How will you be able to deal with an employee you believe is redefining the word ‘sickness’ if you don’t know how often they’re ill? Having a solid, effective way of monitoring and recording their absence is crucial. Make sure that you and your managers have an accurate picture of the level and patterns of sickness absence of the person in question (as well as across the business).
This’ll mean any patterns or potential problems can be identified much more easily, and procedures to deal with them can be applied consistently. Some businesses use additional monitoring systems such as the Bradford Factor which applies weighting to different types of absences (the ‘long weekend’ sickness bug receiving a high weighting score, for instance!). This supports the principle that repeat absences have a greater operational impact on businesses than long term sickness.
Carry out return to work interviews!
Applied consistently, return to work interviews are proven to reduce sickness absence, and are crucial in helping you deal with anyone taking excessive sick leave. Simply put, nobody likes to sit across a table, look into their manager’s eyes and explain why they’re being repeatedly absent – especially if they aren’t being entirely honest. If your employee understands and sees that you’re on the ball by routinely carrying out return to work interviews, you’ll tend to find that their sickness absence (and that of others in your workforce) decreases. Amazing, eh?
Your managers should be fully clued-up on how to deal with sickness absence too, as they’re likely to be the first port when someone calls in sick. Do they know what questions to ask and how to handle the call? Train them to understand the company’s sickness absence policy and ensure they know the basics of what evidence they can ask for; usually a self-certification form for the first seven calendar days or less of sickness, followed by a doctor’s certificate for longer absences.
Be firm, but careful
When sickness absence becomes a problem, you need to act firmly, but carefully. If one of your employees has a series of short-term absences, it’s easy to overlook the fact there’s a pattern emerging, so you might be slow to realise you need to deal with things formally.
It’s important to address whether there’s an underlying health condition giving rise to the absences and to satisfy yourself that the absences are genuine. The absence might actually be due to a problem with a colleague or manager or workload, but you’ll only know this through effective investigation and appropriate communication.
Establish these points as part of a formal meeting
If it turns out that an employee is taking an excessive amount of absence, then it might be appropriate for a formal meeting which should involve you exploring the following:
• The effect of the pattern of absences on the employee’s colleagues, department and the business
• The likelihood of continuing absences and the impact they are likely to have
• Whether there are changes to the employee’s job or redeployment opportunities that would assist in attendance, and reduce the effect of absence on colleagues or the business
• Whether the employee has an underlying health condition and, if so, whether there are any reasonable adjustments that could be made at work
• Whether it is appropriate to give the employee a formal warning that their attendance levels need to improve.
Need more advice or guidance on dealing with sickness absence or more information on any of the points above?
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