How to manage employee sickness in the Winter Season

It’s that time of year when colds, flu and other winter bugs start making the rounds – everyone seems to be ill and sickness in the workplace can be a difficult to manage without a robust policy.

You don’t want employees taken days off every time they sneeze, but you also don’t want employees working whilst sick, slowing their recovery and potentially passing on germs to colleagues.

According to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), the number of days taken as sick days by employees each year has decreased from an average 7.2 days in 1993 to 4.1 days in 2017.

Another study by the insurance company Aviva found that 70% of workers surveyed said they would still go to work if sick which may be the reason that the number of sick days taken by employees is decreasing.

With this in mind, here’s a few simple tips on how to ensure you effectively manage employee sickness through the Winter Season:

Have a thorough absence policy

This is the number one rule. Lack of an absence policy (or lack of detail in an absence policy) will cause nothing but headaches for HR and management. Employees may be confused about the rules and their rights and some may take advantage of a basic policy or look for loopholes if a policy does not cover all the bases.

Make sure your policy outlines what is deemed as a valid reason for absence, the procedures before, during and after an absence as well as the consequences should the policy be breached.

Self-certified absences when is a doctors’ note required?

A doctors’ note is required when someone has been absent from work due to sickness for more than 7 days (including non-working days). If an employee has been off sick for more than 7 days and fails to provide a sick note, employers may be entitled to withhold contractual or statutory sick pay (SSP). This should be made clear in your absence policy.

If you find yourself in this situation, first, try an establish why the employee is failing to provide a sick note by talking with them – ask them to explain why they cannot provide a sick note. If this is unsuccessful, write them a letter requesting the sick note and explain that failure to do so may be seen as an unauthorised absence and a disciplinary matter. Further explain that Sick Pay may be withheld if a sick note cannot be provided.

The law states that employees can self-certify for sick leave if they have been off for up to 7 days (including non-working days). You should get employees to sign a self-certification document to keep record of their sickness/absence. This can be done as part of a Return To Work meeting.

Return to Work meetings

When conducting a return to work meeting it’s a good idea to keep it straightforward and to the facts.

Welcome the employee back and ask if they are able to return to their existing duties.
Establish and record the reason for their absence and ask for a doctors’ note if applicable.

Breathe HR has a great service which allows you to record, analyse and report on sickness absence, providing your management team with the information they need instantly.

If an employee has suffered a disability or life-changing injury, you are legally required to make reasonable adjustments to allow them to continue to work. A disability is not always physical either, a mental health condition is also considered a disability if it lasts or is likely to last 12 months.

When absence is frequent and causing an issue, this should be discussed with the employee and they should be reminded of the absence policy, made aware of what is expected of them and that failure to meet those standards might put their job at risk.

If you’re experiencing any issues discussed above and need personalised advice and practical HR solutions, please get in touch.