A Guide
for Employers

Navigating the sickness absence process

For Employers, Human Resources

A structured and transparent approach to managing sickness absence is crucial for both the employer and the employee.

In this guide, we want to share some top tips for navigating this important process.

Firstly, you should ensure that you have a clear sickness absence policy that outlines the following:

  • The procedures for reporting sickness absence;
  • Obtaining medical certificates;
  • Any specific requirements within the organisation; and
  • The consequences of non-compliance with reporting procedures/the policy, etc.

Fit notes

Employees can self-certify for the first seven days of absence, after which they are required to provide a fit note. If a fit note provides that may be fit for work subject to amended hours or duties, you should consider these and discuss with your employee whether you are able to implement them. For more information on Fit Notes, see our Checklist for Employees and Employers.

Return-to-work interviews

These interviews should be held following any period of absence as they are helpful to discuss the employee’s absence, reasons for it, and any support required. They can also help identify patterns of sickness absence and may highlight underlying issues that need attention.

Disabilities

If an employee’s sickness absence is related to a disability, you should consider reasonable adjustments to support their return to work. Remember, an employee does not need to have 2 consecutive years of service to make a claim for discrimination (job applicants can also claim!). For more information on this, see our blog post on discrimination.

Absence management

Where employees have short-term persistent absences, or are on long-term absence, it may be appropriate to begin formal absence management. Your internal policy should include clarification on levels of absence that would trigger this.

A formal absence management process follows similar levels of sanction as a disciplinary or performance management process whereby a first written warning would be issued, followed by a final written warning and ultimately dismissal if there is no improvement in attendance. Warnings should include clear expectations for improvement.

At any stage where a formal outcome is given, the employee has the right to appeal, and such appeal must be heard by someone independent who has not been involved in the process previously.

Consider engaging with Occupational Health services for a professional assessment of an employee’s health, especially if the absence is prolonged or recurrent.

Occupational Health reports can provide valuable insights into an employee’s ability to perform their duties and suggest reasonable adjustments where necessary.

You should also explore flexible working arrangements for employees returning from sickness absence, such as adjusted working hours or remote work, to support their transition back into the workplace (remember, as of April 2024, flexible working requests are a day one right!).

Confidentiality

This process can be extremely stressful for employees, so it is vital that you remain fair and impartial, and ensure that all documents and information are kept confidential, and held in accordance with your Privacy Standard.

You should not disclose any personal documents or information to any third party unless it is required.

Effectively managing sickness absence is an essential aspect of fostering a healthy and productive work environment. By understanding the basics of the sickness absence process with this guide, you can create a supportive framework that addresses employee wellbeing while ensuring compliance with legal and regulatory requirements.

Regularly reviewing and updating policies, maintaining open lines of communication, and seeking professional advice when needed will contribute to a more resilient and adaptive workforce.

Please reach out to the Outsourced HR and Employment Law Support team here at Thrive via enquiries@thrivelaw.co.uk for more advice on and support with the sickness absence management process.

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Disclaimer

Please note this blog is for reference purposes only and is only accurate at which the date it was published. It does not constitute legal advice and should not be relied upon as such. Specific Legal advice about your specific circumstances should always be sought separately before taking or deciding not to take any actions. Please contact us if you have any questions on enquiries@thrivelaw.co.uk.

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