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How to Manage Sickness Related Absence in Your Workplace, and Reduce Costly and Time Sucking Claims

sickness-policy

Are you an employer?

Have you a member of staff absent from work due to illness?

Do you worry about how to properly manage employees’ absence?

Are you concerned that you’re not sure how to manage sickness related absence?

Many of my clients were in the same boat.

But they’re not worried anymore.

Do you want to know what they’ve done to get some peace of mind in this area?

And to do the same?

Draw up a sick leave absence management policy and procedure

A sick leave absence management policy and procedure is a bit of a mouthful, isn’t it?

Basically, you want to have a policy in place which sets out clearly what procedure is to be adopted when an employee is absent through illness.

This allows you and employees know what exactly is going to happen, and the procedure to be followed.

It’s fair because it will apply to all employees.

And it provides much appreciated clarity for everyone.

This policy should make clear:

  1. whether there is a sick pay scheme
  2. what the notification and certification requirements are when an employee is out sick
  3. that the employee can be required to attend a doctor nominated by the employer for medical assessment.

Medical certs-when, and how frequently, are they required?

You can decide how soon you require a medical certificate from an employee.

What follows is not set in stone, and you can adapt it to suit your circumstances. But, if you do follow these steps, or similar ones, you won’t go too far wrong.

So, on the 1st day of illness, the employee should be required to notify his line manager as soon as possible before scheduled commencement of duty.

He should also be expected to report the general nature of  the illness and expected return to work date.

On the 3rd working day, he must forward a medical cert. to you.

You can choose whether it is the 3rd working day or 4th working day when the cert is required-it’s your decision-but make it clear in your policy document, and ensure that all employees have received a copy of your sick leave absence management policy.

The duration of the medical certs. should also be specified, with weekly certs being submitted initially.

Requiring weekly medical certs for short term absence and accepting monthly certs for long term absences is widespread, and sensible, practice.

It is helpful, also, to define in your policy what is short term absence, what’s long term, and what is unauthorised absence.

Generally, short term absence would be 4 weeks or less, while long term absence would be an absence of more than 4 weeks.

Unauthorised absence is an absence which is not supported by a doctor’s note/cert, or not authorised by management, or not communicated using the correct procedure.

Unauthorised absences would be addressed through your workplace disciplinary procedure.

You do have one, don’t you?

Regular contact should be maintained with the employee to ascertain how he is, and the likely return to work  date.

This is also useful to maintain the employee’s’ connection to the workplace, but should be on a needs basis-for example to ensure the medical certs are being submitted- and not too intrusive or pushy.

When the absence is for 3 or 4 months, it may be time to take a closer look at the absence, and the likelihood of a return to work at all.

An appointment with the company doctor or occupational physician may be arranged at this stage, at the expense of the employer.

It may be time to invite the employee in for a chat, and a discussion including letting the employee know that his employment is under review due to the absence and the question of capacity to do the job will have to be addressed.

She should be able to give an assessment of the likelihood of a return to work, when, and whether there is anything you, as an employer, should be doing to facilitate a return to work.

The doctor or occupational physician may suggest a phased or temporary return to work. This can be monitored and re-assessed after 4-6 weeks.

Before any decision is made, though, about termination of the contract on the grounds of capability, the employee should be invited to make a submission to influence the decision, and fair procedures must be followed.

The medical report should support a decision to terminate by indicating that there is no reasonable prospect of a return to work within a reasonable timeframe.

Unfair Dismissals Act, 1977, section 6(4):

 

(4) Without prejudice to the generality of subsection (1) of this section, the dismissal of an employee shall be deemed, for the purposes of this Act, not to be an unfair dismissal, if it results wholly or mainly from one or more of the following:
(a) the capability, competence or qualifications of the employee for performing work of the kind which he was employed by the employer to do,

 

 

Do remember, though, that the decision to terminate the employment is yours to make, and you cannot hide behind the medical assessment and blame the doctor or try to pin the responsibility on him.

Hopefully, there will be no need to terminate and the employee can return to work.

Return to work follow up

When the employee returns to work, you should:

  1. acknowledge the return to work
  2. request staff to submit a “fit to resume” doctor’s note, by the resumption date, following long term sickness absence. Unless a “fit to resume” note is furnished, employee to be given up to a week to produce one and/or not allowed to return to work without one
  3. try to facilitate a partial return to work where the employee requests it.

In any event, you should interview all employees, regardless of how long they have been out or their illness, prior to their return to work.

Role of occupational health provider/company doctor

Your sickness absence management policy needs to make clear that an employee can be requested to attend your doctor or medical advisor for medical examination and that you, as employer, are entitled to receive details of such medical assessments.

Your occupational health provider/doctor should be able to

  • carry out pre-employment medical assessments;
  • provide advice on health related matters which affect employees’ work;
  • advise about employees fitness to undertake his full range of duties and to make recommendations on measures to assist his return to work;
  • advise on employee’s fitness to undertake modified or alternative duties;
  • advise you about areas of support for health related problems which may be affecting employment.

Quit worrying about sickness related absence

Stop worrying unduly about employees being out sick.

Get a policy drawn up to manage absences, enforce it consistently and fairly, and make sure all employees have been given a copy.

You will reduce your stress, increase your peace of mind, and significantly diminish employment related claims-for stress and unfair dismissal- against you.