How to manage long-term sickness absence

UK employee sickness rates being at an all-time low should be good news to employers’ ears. The statisticssuggest that the nation is healthy and fit for work after all. However, this might not be the whole picture considering that presenteeism, when people turn up to work sick, is also reportedly breaking records.

Although presenteeism means that more people are present at work, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they are working effectively.

If people don’t take time off to recuperate when they are unwell, aside from the risk of spreading illness, they could be at risk of developing more serious problems in themselves. This could eventually lead to long-term sickness absence.

How might long-term sickness absence affect your business?

When an employee is absent from work due to long-term sickness (usually for four or more consecutive weeks), it can be a difficult time for them and a strain on your business. Changes to your business operations will no doubt be required. And there is also a risk of unexpected costs should you need to arrange cover or make adjustments.

To reduce the chances of this happening, it’s best to implement a prevention policy which promotes good health and wellbeing at work. For example, we now know that stress-related sickness accounts for a large proportion of long-term absence. This has even been recognised by the UK government who plan to address this by introducing mental health first aiders. Early intervention can help here and is vital for prevention. You may also like to consider introducing a health insurance plan to your employee benefits scheme to further promote good healthcare.

Sadly, not all sickness can be avoided. Therefore it’s a good idea to know your rights and how best to manage an employee who is on long-term sick leave.

Manage the absence

Your sickness policy should inform all employees of protocol regarding sickness absence. This should set out the notification and certification requirements, and the penalty for failing to follow them.

You’ll need to keep in touch with the employee whilst they are absent and document your communication. You may also need to get a GP report, which requires the employee’s prior consent.

In addition to managing the absent employee, it’s important to address the gap that their absence has created at work. Could temporary cover be helpful?

Manage the return to work

If and when the employee is ready to return to work, consider whether a phased return might be beneficial. Assess the circumstances in which they are returning. Do you need to rethink their duties or adjust their work station? These are important considerations that will need to be addressed. Conducting a return-to-work interview will help you find the answers.

Special considerations

Long-term sickness could be the result of, or result in, disability. In either circumstance you would have a duty to make any reasonable adjustments required.

For help with managing an employee on long-term sickness leave contact your local HR Dept today. Or for advice on mental health first aid, speak to our Health & Safety Dept.