In March 2017 the Office for National Statistics reported that 137 million working days were lost to sickness absence in 2016. This figure is alarming but the picture is improving. When records began in 1993 the average worker lost 7.2 days to sickness. This has fallen to a new low of 4.3 days.
Last year the main reasons for sickness absence were (broadly): coughs & colds (24.8%); back & neck pain (22.4%); and stress & anxiety (11.5%).
While the economic climate and job insecurity are no doubt major factors motivating people to come in to work no matter what, improvements in the way sickness absence is managed has an important part to play. If managers are unsure how to act, help is available to build knowledge and confidence.
A good checklist for managers would include the following:
- Check and follow any existing company sickness/ absence management procedures/ Employment Contract provisions.
- Keep confidential records of calls/ meetings/ letters and any medical records.
- Investigate the nature, extent and likely duration of any illness which is of concern. Engage with the employee at an early stage to gather information and obtain medical records.
- Consider whether there is an underlying cause for short-term and irregular absences.
- Where appropriate implement any capability or disciplinary procedure. This may involve offering practical advice and assistance, setting timescales for improvement and giving warnings before dismissing. Take into account the age and length of service of the employee, the surrounding circumstances and how similar cases have been dealt with in the past.
- Before contemplating dismissal, consider the importance of the role the employee performs, the impact their continued absence is having and the difficulty and cost in continuing to deal with the absence.
- If the employee is disabled consider reasonable adjustments to facilitate a return to work.
- Review whether you have any PHI or ill-health retirement insurance cover.