Sickness absence is costly to any size of business so having the right processes in place to deal with these situations can make a massive difference.

Generally, a long-term absence is much easier to deal with because you will often have a good understanding of the reason and cause. Regular, short-term absences can be fraught with difficulty, as there may not be a specific underlying cause, I will tackle this subject next time. A long-term absence is generally defined as an absence that last for 28 calendar days or more.

 Tips for managing long term absence

To help you manage long term absences within your organisation I have developed some tips. See below

Make sure you have a good sickness policy

Clear information and instructions on how to deal with absences is really important, it sets the standard and informs the employee about how they will be managed.

Refer to an Occupational Health service

These services may be available through local hospitals but you will also find independent providers. A good quality Occupational Health advisor will work with you to help you understand the absence. How it affects the employee, when the absence may end. What adjustments (if any) you may need to consider when they return. I can recommend a really good one in Essex, send me an email or give me a call 07584 245796 and I will give you their details.

Keep in touch

Agree how and when you will make contact with the employee. Try to arrange a home visit or a meeting at a neutral location. You can’t make someone meet you but you can insist that they talk to you. Remember though, they may not be well enough to talk so be sensitive about how often you talk.

 Offer additional support

If your budget allows you may want to consider offering additional medical interventions to hasten recovery such as counselling or physiotherapy. It’s worth considering the cost benefit of any intervention.

 Capability

If there is no prospect of the employee returning to work or they are likely to be absent for an unrealistic period of time you can start a performance capability process. This is a formal process that aims to support the employee back to work whist moving them closer too dismissal. It can take time to reach a conclusion but if you don’t follow a process you will leave yourself exposed to a claim for unfair dismissal or discrimination (see 6 below).

Take advice on whether the Equality Act may apply

This is tricky area and you may never know whether you have acted appropriately until you are sitting before an Employment Tribunal. It’s okay to take steps to dismiss the employee if the absence is extensive but you will need to demonstrate that you have taken all reasonable steps to provide adjustments and support the employee back to work.

 If the employee is absent for an extended period of time,

You are quite entitled to backfill the role with a temporary member of staff. Never fill the role permanently even if you know the employee won’t be returning. If you do, you can expect to see a tribunal claim.

Managing long term sickness absence can get complicated if not managed correctly. If you would like to know more please get in touch with the Nexus HR team. You can  email, complete our online contact form or call 07584 245796 and we will be happy to chat things through.