Having a sickness absence policy in place is important to protect your business, but also to provide guidance to managers and ensure that employees know what’s expected of them when they’re absent due to illness.
The sections below detail the key elements you should consider including within your sickness absence policy.
How, when and to whom do you expect your employees to report sickness absence? If they’re off for more than one day, do you expect them to call in each day with an update, or less frequently? What information do they need to provide and how should their manager record it all?
Employees can self-certify for sickness absence of 7 days or less, but must provide medical evidence in the form of a “fit note” for any absence longer than 7 days. If you require employees’ to self-certify, then you should provide them with either your own self-certification document, or point them towards the HMRC online form.
What happens if an employee fails to adhere to the reporting procedure or provide the required evidence? Will you still treat the absence as sickness, or will it be recorded as unauthorised absence? Be clear about the disciplinary process that will be followed in such an event and potential consequences.
Other Types of Absence
You might want to consider detailing your company’s policy on non-sickness absence within the sickness absence policy. Do you allow time off for medical appointments? There are no legal requirements in the UK for this, so it’s up to the company to decide what their policy is. Check out our other articles on “Bereavement Leave” and “What If It’s Not Sickness or Annual Leave?” for other ideas.
Returning to Work
What is expected of both the employee and manager when an employee returns from sickness absence. Do you perform return to work interviews? When will these be and who will lead them?
When an employee returns from long term sick, it might be worth considering performing the return to work interview before they actually return, this will allow time for any necessary adjustments to be made to the employee’s working arrangements and conditions.
There are two types of sick pay: Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) and contractual sick pay. As a UK-based company, you HAVE to at least pay SSP, but you can choose to be more generous and offer more than the legal minimum. This is contractual sick pay and, if you offer it, the details of it should be written into your employment contracts.
Statutory sick pay is paid at a flat rate (see gov.uk for up-to-date rate), for a maximum of 28 weeks in any one period sickness. An employee only qualifies for this after the 3rd day of consecutive sickness (including non-working days).
Your sickness policy should include basic details about the sick pay you offer and indicate where an employee can look to find more information. For example, their employment policy, or the Government website for SSP.
There are some valid arguments that absence management should be supportive without the threat of disciplinary action. However, if your company does implement a trigger-led disciplinary process, then your policy should be clear on the trigger points used (for example, the Bradford factor), stages of the process, and any other applicable details. This ensures a fair procedure is followed and can protect the company from claims of unfair dismissal or discrimination.
While there doesn’t need to be a specific section on managers’ responsibilities within the sickness absence policy, you should ensure that their responsibilities are woven into the document, or provide them with a separate guide. This should include things like maintaining proper records of employees’ sickness absence. Make sure they appreciate the need to balance supporting a genuinely ill employee and encouraging better attendance in future.
It is also wise to remind line managers of the duty to make reasonable adjustments for disabled employees – see section below.
A Note on Pregnancy and Disability
You must record any pregnancy-related sickness absence separately from other sick leave, so it cannot be used for disciplinary action.
It would be wise to use the same process for disability-related sickness. Because disabled employees are afforded extra protection from dismissal, if you do feel the need to dismiss the employee due to sickness absence, then having sickness absence recorded separately from disability-related sickness will help you ensure you don’t discriminate against them.
Using a tool such as The Holiday Tracker to track your employees’ absence allows you to create custom absence categories for recording different types of absence. Ensure your sickness absence policy makes it clear that these things will be tracked separately and that managers know to do so.
Short-Term and Long-Term Sickness
It’s important to also make the distinction between short-term and long-term absence and your procedure for managing them. This can either be dealt with via a separate long-term sickness policy or included within this general sickness absence policy. See our article on Long-Term Sickness Absence.