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The first Monday in February has been coined National Sickie Day in the UK. This is because statistically, it is the most popular time of the year when most employees are likely to call in sick. 

According to Action Mental Health, a 2014 ITV poll showed that whilst colds, flu, and food poisoning were the most popular reasons given when employees phoned in sick, however, 46% of those interviewed stated that “feeling tired” was the real reason.

Nevertheless, for SME owners, sickness absences, especially those that carry on for weeks or even months can severely affect an organisation’s ability to meet its growth targets and maintain good employee morale.

To help you manage staff sick leave absences, our Employment Law Solicitors have put together some top tips.

1. Set out clear policies and procedures for managing and recording sickness absences

Having robust policies and procedures in place governing sickness and other absences is essential to basic HR management. It is also important in terms of statutory sick pay (SSP) that records are kept regarding payment of SSP, and these can be presented to HMRC upon request. 

All employees should know who to contact if they cannot come into work because they are unwell and how such communication should be made (for example phone or email). You may also want team members to let their line manager know first thing in the morning if they are not coming in and provide daily updates as to when they are likely to return to work. If this is the case, ensure all employees are made aware of this policy.


2. Ensure all employees know when they must fill out a self-certification form and when a ‘fit note’ is required

You need to obtain evidence of the reason an employee is too unwell to come into work. This can be in the form of either:

  1. a signed statement provided by the employee giving a reason for their illness and the dates they are absent from work
  2. in the case of long-term sickness absence a ‘Statement of Fitness for Work’ or ‘fit note’ from a healthcare professional will be required

Employees who are on long-term sick leave should be encouraged to provide regular updates on their prognosis. It is important to note that the responsibility is on you as an employer to request updates, not on the employee to provide them.


3. Understand statutory sick pay entitlements

SSP entitlements can be complex, especially in cases where the employee’s absence is due to having or recovering from an elective procedure. Employees and some workers have an express right to SSP. To help you understand your rights and obligations regarding SSP we have created a brief guide which you can access here


4. Have clear procedures in place for employees returning to work after a period of absence

It is important to have a consistent approach when managing an employee’s return to work after a period of absence due to sickness. This is to ensure that one employee does not feel singled out or discriminated against. In many cases, a return to work meeting will be required to establish whether or not any adjustments need to be made so the employee can safely come back to work.

Another issue that can be discussed at a return to work meeting is whether the employee wishes to move to a different department or change roles either permanently or whilst they continue to recover.

>> Download a free Employment Contract Template

5. Deal with problem sickness absences as soon as possible

Although it may seem easier to ignore problematic sickness absences this approach will not help you in the long term. You need to ascertain whether the absences are for a genuine reason and whether or not the employee will continue to need frequent and/or extended time off and how this will affect your business. One step to take is to hold a formal meeting with your employee to discuss matters such as:

  • the reason for their frequent and/or lengthy absences
  • how long the absences are to continue and the effect they are having on your business
  • whether there are changes to the employee's job or redeployment opportunities that would assist in them attending work more often and thereby reducing the effect on colleagues and/or your business
  • whether a formal warning is required

If dismissal is contemplated you will need to follow a fair and reasonable process to protect your business from an unfair dismissal claim. Check out our blog the steps you can take now to prevent unfair dismissal claims.

Wrapping up

Clear and well-publicised policies and procedures are essential when it comes to managing staff sickness absences. In addition, having a well-drafted employment contract and staff handbook which sets out the rights and obligations of all parties concerning taking time off work will help avoid potential Employment Tribunal claims. 


Get assistance from LawBite

At LawBite, we have expert employment solicitors who can help you create the best employment law documents for your business and give advice on how to manage employee sickness absences.

Book a free 15-minute phone consultation with one of our lawyers today!


Additional information

In closing

Nothing in this article constitutes legal advice on which you should rely. The article is provided for general information purposes only. Professional legal advice should always be sought before taking any action relating to or relying on the content of this article. Our Platform Terms of Use apply to this article.