What should a sickness absence policy contain?
17th June 2016
Inevitably, employees will require time off to manage a short term or long term illness.
A detailed policy protects the employer, any managers or workers in authoritative positions, and the employee that is taking time off.
A sickness absence policy should cover more than just the simple details, like statutory sick pay and the occasional day off work.
Things that also need to be considered include long term sick leave, disability accommodations and more complicated scenarios, including situations where an employee could return to work but might need changes in order to do so.
Your sickness absence policy should be carefully considered, taking into account a wide range of possibilities.
Keeping your sickness and absence management easy to understand:
Your employees need to be aware about how their sickness absence is managed. Your policy should be a document that all parties can use. It should explain how you monitor and record absences.
Short term illness and long term sick leave:
Your sickness absence policy should cover both short term and long term sick leave. Short term sick leave is typically leave of seven or fewer working days, with no lasting effects. This might also cover time off for health related appointments. If an employee is off work for fewer than seven days, they can self-certify their illness.
Long term sick leave might cover chronic, severe and terminal illness, a moderate or severe injury, or an operation and any recovery time.
When you’re dealing with short term sickness, the return to work is often easy and smooth. The employee will simply come back once they’re ready. Include in your policy if you will need them to fill in a form upon their return.
If sick leave lasts longer, you may need to cover a wide range of other issues such as an employee’s responsibility to provide evidence of their illness – typically in the form of a Fit Note from a GP.
The return to work is often more complex following long term sick leave. It may be that the employee will require changes and accommodations; they might be classed as disabled when they previously weren’t.
During long term sick leave, both the employer and employee have a responsibility to provide regular updates – the employer needs to keep the employee aware of any important company news or changes within the business, whilst the employee needs to provide details about how their condition is progressing. Both parties are responsible for ensuring that a return to work happens in a timely manner once it’s a valid option.
Authorised and unauthorised absences:
Employees can’t be expected to predict their illness in advance. That’s why your policy should include your process for an authorised absence. It should be clear to an employee exactly how, and when, they’re expected to inform you of their need to take time off. This should be a reasonable policy – give your employees time to wake up!
An unauthorised absence is one where an employee takes time off without informing you. Your policy should include details about what disciplinary action might be taken in unauthorised absence cases.
Pay options and flexibility:
Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) is available to eligible workers that have been off sick for four days or more.
- Paid for up to 28 weeks by the employer.
- Currently at £88.45 per week.
Some companies also have their own sick pay scheme, which may provide additional money. Employees can receive more than the Statutory Sick Pay value, but can’t be paid less as long as they meet the eligibility requirements.
It’s up to the employer if they’ll pay for the first three days of an employee’s sick leave.
Information about Statutory Sick Pay entitlement, and any additional offers made by the employer, should feature in a sickness absence policy.
In some cases, an employer might offer a flexible alternative. Employees might be able to use some of their annual leave entitlement to cover the first few days of their illness, if they want to receive payment for the time that they’re off work. This option is at an employer’s discretion, since the employee won’t have booked the time off in advance.
Accessing professional advice and support:
Your sickness absence policy should mention any additional support and advice that you might receive. This might come from an Occupational Health advisor, or from Fit for Work (the government’s occupational health scheme for employees that have been off work for four weeks or more).
If you intend to make use of such a service, either internally or by bringing someone in, this should be mentioned in your policy.
You should also mention how your employee can access advice and support. Provide useful contact details for external organisations, as well as details about who they should contact within the business.
Reasonable adjustments and disabilities:
Under the Equality Act 2010, an employer is required to make reasonable adjustments for any employee with a disability.
Reasonable adjustments aren’t clearly defined. It’s important to use initiative and common sense to make sure that the right adjustments are made. This can involve employers, employees, medical and health professionals and other relevant parties, working together to find solutions.
Mental and physical disabilities are included under the Equality Act 2010, with possible adjustments ranging from flexible working hours to different office equipment, or a new job role. Your policy should state your approach to providing these adjustments, assuring your employees of your commitment to helping them to return to work.
Return to work, or dismissal:
The ideal aim is for an employee to return to work, in their previous capacity or in a new role. This isn’t always possible.
If an employer is confident that the employee will not be able to return, they can begin dismissal proceedings. These have to be very carefully managed, and it’s wise to seek professional help. Your policy should address your return to work processes, and your dismissal process.
A few final things to remember:
- You can find sickness absence policy templates online. These are not tailored to your company, but can provide a useful guide for content and layout. Make sure that you adapt any template to meet the specific needs of your business.
- There are no rules about sickness absence policies, regarding layout or structure. They can be one page long, or might be extensive documents. However long your policy is, it should be easy to read and understand.
- Your policy should ensure that employees feel supported. It should make clear your commitment to helping your employees to stay in work, or to return as quickly and easily as possible (and not too soon!).
- All collected information should be kept in accordance with the Data Protection Act 1998. This should be mentioned in your policy.
- Your policy should be made following consultation with your employees, at all levels. You’re also responsible for ensuring that it is kept up to date, particularly regarding factual information such as Statutory Sick Pay rates.
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