Managing short term sickness absence at work

Apart from taking annual leave, employees may need time off for a number of reasons, whether it’s short-term sickness or longer-term health issues.

Managing short term sickness absence at work

Apart from taking annual leave, employees may need time off for a number of reasons, whether it’s short-term sickness or longer-term health issues.

As a business owner there’s no getting away from the fact that you’re going to have to deal with sickness absence at some point – we’re only human and we all get sick from time to time.

The good news is that most employees on average only take 4 sick days off a year* but it’s still important to have a clear absence policy in place so that you’re prepared for managing sickness when the time does come.

First of all, lets look at some reasons for short term absence

  • Short term sickness – i.e. a minor illness such as cold, flu, stomach bug etc. and more recently COVID-19
  • Taking time off for dependants – caring responsibilities for children
  • Unauthorised absences – when an employee doesn’t come into work, doesn’t let their employee know and/or gives no reason for their absence.
  • Time off because of domestic issues such as a broken-down car, although it’s important to note there’s no statutory right to time off for this but you could agree with your employees to take unpaid leave or time in lieu at a later date.
  • Bereavement or compassionate leave – parents who lose a child under the age of 18, or suffer a stillbirth after 24 weeks, are entitled to 2 weeks Parental Bereavement Leave, and Statutory Bereavement Leave Pay if they meet the qualifying conditions. In other cases most employers have a policy for bereavement leave and may agree some paid or unpaid time off.


Why short-term sickness absence matters

For many businesses, absence can represent a significant cost – there could be occupational health costs, the cost of overtime or temporary cover for your absent employee, as well as sick pay.

Frequent sickness absence can also have some indirect costs too such as:

    • Low morale – colleagues may have to pick up the absent employee’s tasks, increasing their workload
    • Low productivity – if employees are calling in sick frequently, it could mean projects don’t progress quickly, even colleagues who rarely take sick days can find themselves with low levels of motivation if other colleagues are regularly off sick.
    • Possible increase in mistakes – if employees are picking up other people’s work they might make mistakes from having a higher workload or not knowing the ins and outs of the role


Managing sick pay entitlement for your workers

To be eligible for Statutory Sick Pay (SSP), employees must:

  • Be classed as an employee at your business
  • Earn more than £120 per week
  • Have been at your company longer than 3 months
  • Have become ill for four or more days in a row, including non-working days 


Sick pay entitlement for your workers during COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic has had significant implications for businesses managing sickness absence and employee’s health and wellbeing.

New legislation relating to COVID-19 means that SSP is available from day one, instead of day four for those affected by coronavirus when self-isolating (but the individual still needs to be off sick for at least 3 days to qualify).

Employers with less than 250 employers can also claim a refund for COVID-19 related SSP costs for up to two weeks per employee.

If your employee is asked to isolate but is not unwell, another option to sick pay is to allow flexible working and for your employee to work from home wherever possible and continue paying them as normal.

You can read more about SSP during COVID-19 here.

*Source ONS 2019

3 tips to manage short term absence

Managing absence effectively is a balance between supporting your employees with their health issues and their return to work.

1. Record absences

The best starting point for managing sickness absences is to begin monitoring and recording absences so you know what you’re dealing with and to identify possible trends. You could use an online HR information system such as Breathe HR to do this. We are Breathe HR Partners and can provide you with their HRIS system.


2. Put a sickness absence policy in place

A clear sickness absence policy is an essential tool – it clearly sets out how your business manages sickness in line with your culture and objectives and explains your employees’ rights and obligations if they’re off sick.


3. Conduct return to work interviews

Carry out return to work interviews after each absence, regardless of how long an employee was off for. Interviews should be held on their first day back (or as near to it as possible) and be held by a line manager or someone from your HR team. The return to work interview should be informal but factual – they’re a tool to help you establish a reason for absence, if there’s a pattern of absence and whether your employee is well enough to be back at work. They can also help you identify absence problems at an early stage and what you as an employer can do to prevent them and support your employee.

Speak to an expert

Whether it’s helping you implement policies or manage difficult conversations with employees, we can help you tackle any sickness absence issues. Primed Premium gives you unlimited telephone and email advice from our employment & HR experts on day-to-day and more complex HR issues as well as supporting you with your contracts and policies.

Call us on 01622 47 41 49 or get a free consultation here.

Access template sickness absence policies and step-by-step guidance on how to manage short-term sickness absence at work, drafted and maintained by our experts in Primed, our online system.

Try Primed free for 12 months

Access extensive online employment & HR template documents in Primed. Try it free for the next 12 months, supporting businesses throughout 2021.

Sign up for free