A certain amount of sickness absence is to be expected so we recommend that all organisations have, as a minimum, clear procedures for reporting and recording of absence, and are clear about employee entitlement to payments during sick leave.
We also recommend organisations have a Management of Sickness Absence Policy outlining the procedure that will be used if an employee’s sickness absence, whether short term or long term, is of concern. Absence can be a fair reason for dismissal, but a fair procedure must be followed prior to dismissal and it must be justified in all the circumstances.
Key Points for all organisations:
- Employees should know who they need to notify, by what time, and how often, if they are off sick. They should also know what certificates they have to provide to cover their periods of sickness. These notification and certification rules will normally be put into the written statement/contract of employment or another document given to the employee.
- Self certificates can be completed for short absences as a result of sickness lasting 7 days or less. Organisations can produce their own self-certification form. An example of a self-certificate can be downloaded by clicking on this link to NCVO’s Good Guide to Employment templates. Employers’ rules usually require employees to submit a medical certificate (Statement of Fitness for work) from a GP or other doctor, if absence continues after 7 days of sickness.
- Employers should keep accurate records of their employee’s sickness absence. These records, and certificates, should be kept securely in line with the Data Protection Act.
- Line Managers should acknowledge that employees have been absent and that they have been missed. This has been shown to be the most effective way to reduce absence. Return to work interviews may not be feasible , but a review of any sickness absence can be put as a standard item on a Supervision Agenda.
- Employers should understand the difference between the Statutory Sick pay scheme (SSP), and any additional Contractual Sick Pay which it provides for its employees as a term of their contract of employment. The written statement/contract of employment given to employees should have enough detail for employees to understand what payment they would receive during sickness absence. Statutory Sick Pay is explained on the HMRC website. Click here
Key Points for handling problems with an employee’s level of absence:
- If your organisation has a Managing Sickness Absence Policy, setting out the procedure to follow, read it carefully. You can get guidance, whether you have a policy or not, by phoning ACAS for free advice: 08457 474747. Remember that if you subscribe to an HR advice service or you have legal expenses insurance cover, take the advice of these services.
- If you don’t have a Policy, you can see where to download example Policies and other resources in the More Resources section below.
- To deal with absence fairly you will need to meet with your employee to discuss their level of absence, to explain the problems their absence causes, to hear what they might have to say about the reasons for absence and to plan how absence can be improved.
- Initially, you may deal with the matter informally, if this is appropriate. If this does not improve the situation, a formal procedure will need to be followed.
- A formal procedure will require the employee to attend formal meetings, arranged with notice, to which they are permitted to bring a work colleague or trade union representative. Formal meetings may result in the issuing of a formal warning of the need to improve attendance, arrangements for review. Employees should be given a right of appeal against a formal warning.
- When the level of sickness absence causes concern it will usually be necessary to obtain medical information from the employee’s GP, and/or an Occupational health practitioner. The Access to Medical Records Act 1988 requires employers to get the employee’s permission before asking their doctor for a report and the employee can ask to see the report before the employer does. See More Resources below. One option for employers too small to have their own occupational health practitioner is to use Occupational health services provided through the National Health Service. A fee will be charged.
- If the employee has a disability as defined by the Equality Act, you will need to consider making reasonable adjustments to support the employee to improve their absence record. Detailed guidance on reasonable adjustments is available from the Equality and Human Rights Commission.
- The ACAS Advisory Handbook, Managing Attendance and Employee Turnover, provides guidance on managing the overall levels of absence in the organisation as well as the approach to individual problems of short term or long term absence.
- A sample Policy can be obtained for a small fee from PEACe; and Pay and Employment Rights Service; or free of charge from the NCVO HR Bank.
- Example forms and letters to use when contacting medical professionals for medical reports are available for a small fee from PEACe.