Business clinic: Sickness absence management

The solution to sickness absence and the associated costs is not always to cut sick pay or take formal action against employees, it is usually about managing at an early stage and communication.

Amy Stokes Forbesby Amy Stokes, associate solicitor, Forbes Solicitors.

Consider an employee who calls in sick due to stress and is signed off by their GP for four weeks. The worst thing you can do is ignore them. The stress may be work related and a grievance may be just around the corner. Have you considered if they have a potential disability under the Equality Act? This could well be related to an underlying condition such as depression which you weren’t aware of.

If that is the case then you have a duty to make reasonable adjustments to their role and to assist them with a return to work. If you ignore them in those circumstances then you are likely to face a tribunal claim.

You should follow your sickness management policy and if you don’t have one, make a plan about how you will proceed and communicate this to the employee. You need to contact them, not only to offer support but also to understand their condition and find out if there is anything you can do to assist their return.

If there is nothing you can do at that stage, confirm when you will contact them again. If you have an employee on longer term sickness absence and the employee agrees, then a referral to Occupational Health or requesting opinion from their GP may assist in getting them back to work.

Remember, employees continue to accrue holidays and are entitled to either take them on their return or receive pay for their holidays if their employment is brought to an end. If you have the procedures in place, follow them. This will hopefully get the employee back to work sooner and help you reduce issues, costs and claims.