Managing Increasing Levels of Sickness Absence

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The CIPD’s annual Absence Management survey for 2013 has concluded that the average absence levels have risen from 7.6 to 7.9 days per employee. Although employers are making more proactive moves towards tackling absenteeism via return to work interviews and making reasonable adjustments, the figure is an increase in the wrong direction. Short term absenteeism, once it has been established is not due to an underlying health condition, can be dealt with under disciplinary procedures. However, what is more difficult for employers is when there is an underlying health condition that prevents their employee from attending work more regularly. I often hear employers’ frustrations that they understand the employee is genuinely unwell to attend work, but they have a business to run and operations that need to continue. In a small to medium size business any absenteeism is hugely disruptive and concerned employers are often at a loss as to what do when an employee is genuinely unwell. By having open communication lines, regular conversations (maybe weekly or fortnightly, depending on how long the employee is expected to remain off work), the employer can be kept in the loop regarding updates on medical appointments, the prognosis of the health condition and also offer their support and keep the individual updated about work. The aim is to always help the employee to return to work at the earliest opportunity. If a return to work date is not clear or cannot be established, it may be appropriate to obtain a medical report via an Occupational Health practitioner. The purpose of this type of report, rather than requesting say a GP report, is it would allow a medical prognosis to be obtained whilst bearing in mind the employee’s job/role/duties. This would highlight whether any reasonable adjustments could be made to the duties or hours of work or even find an alternative role within the business which may allow the employee to return to work much sooner. Any reasonable adjustments can be considered by the business and how best to implement them. There are also times when despite the best endeavours to make those reasonable adjustments, they are not always possible for economic or business reasons. At times like this, the contract of employment ends on ill health grounds. Of course, throughout the process, there is always the possibility the employee may be covered by Equality Act 2010 if they are considered disabled so employers need to proceed with caution and seek advice.

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