Having a sickness absence policy in place is important to protect your business. It also provides guidance to managers. And ensures that employees know what’s expected of them when they’re absent due to illness.
These are 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 seven days or less. For any absence longer than seven days, they must provide medical evidence in the form of a “fit note”. If you require employees’ to self-certify, then provide them with your own self-certification document. Or point them towards the HMRC online form.
What happens if an employee fails to follow the reporting procedure or provide the evidence? Will you still treat the absence as sickness? Or will it be recorded as unauthorised absence? If this happens, be clear about the disciplinary process that will happen and the potential consequences.
Other Types of Absence
You can detail 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 may be worth having the return to work interview before they return to the office. This gives you time for any adjustments needed 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 details. You follow a fair procedure. And it protects 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 included in the document. Or provide managers with a separate guide. 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. This cannot be used for disciplinary action.
It would be wise to use the same process for disability-related sickness. Disabled employees have extra protection from dismissal. If you need to dismiss the employee due to sickness absence, then having sickness absence recorded separately from disability-related sickness helps ensure you’re not discriminating 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. You can deal with this using a separate long-term sickness policy or included within this general sickness absence policy. See our article on Long-Term Sickness Absence.
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