This blog post looks at some of the most practical ways of dealing with long-term sickness from an employer’s perspective, but my overarching advice is ‘early intervention’, i.e. make sure you deal with it in the early stages.
Advice for managers
Unless an employee has been in an accident that prevents them from coming to work, line managers are generally uncomfortable at dealing with long-term sickness and can sometimes be annoyed with an employee for going off on long-term sick leave. But you must not assume that an employee is acting dishonestly unless you have factual evidence that they are. You need to have a meeting or chat with them in the early stages to ascertain exactly what is wrong, whether it’s work-related stress that you need to address, a personal issue or a medical condition, plus how long they think they could be off so you can plan ahead. Whatever the reason, make sure you approach it with some sympathy and show some concern as this will help them to feel that you actually care, plus you will undoubtedly need their help whilst they are off too! Do however make sure you receive medical evidence from a qualified practitioner!
Stay in touch with absent employees
It is also important to remember to remain in regular contact with an employee on long-term sick leave as they could feel forgotten and isolated during their time away from the workplace. They could also fear that they have lost their job. All of these things could have a negative impact on their eventual return to work. To update them with what is happening in the workplace, you can stay in regular contact by telephone and/or the occasional visit to their home. Ask how they are feeling medically and how they are coping with being away from work. Reassure them where necessary. Keeping in regular touch will have a positive impact on their return to work and may even motivate them to return earlier.
However, if you do feel someone is behaving dishonestly and it’s having a serious impact on your business, then you may need to consider the dismissal process (check your policies are up-to-date!).
My top tips for dealing with long-term sickness absence:
- Have a clear sick policy so both the employee and employer know the both procedures and their rights and responsibilities.
- Understand the legal requirements that surround long-term sickness. If you don’t understand them, seek professional advice.
- Hold a meeting with the employee concerned.
- Make sure you document/record all conversations and meetings, plus obtain medical evidence.
- Keep in regular contact.
- Hold a return to work interview.
Remember, a happy worker is a hard worker. But both employers and employees have rights when dealing with long-term sickness absence so there is no point in shying away – you need to deal with it. ACAS has published a leaflet which you may find useful if you are experiencing this problem at the moment. http://www.acas.org.uk/CHttpHandler.ashx?id=284&p=0
I will be writing another blog next month called ’Dealing With Employees Returning to Work After Long-term Sickness’, but in the meantime please share any experiences you have had on dealing with the above, both good and bad!