Short-term sickness absence could be a one-off case (which will probably be no cause for real concern) or part of repeated short-term absences potentially caused by an underlying medical condition or, in some cases, skipping work for reasons other than sickness. These repeated short-term absences can be very disruptive to organisations.
A number of thoughts might go through an employer’s mind on hearing that a key member of staff is off work sick:
- What is the reason for the employee’s absence and how long is the person likely to be off work?
- Who is going to cover the person’s workload in their absence?
- What effect is the person’s absence going to have on the organisation?
Absence that continues for an extended period of time (long-term absence) may be due to a condition that would be covered under the Equality Act 2010 so employers need to ensure that they fulfil their responsibilities under this legislation (see our blog on the Equality Act 2010 for further guidance).
It is important that employers retain all absence records, correspondence and medical evidence throughout all sickness absence processes, ensuring that all data is stored confidentially and in accordance with data protection legislation. Medical reports may be required from the employee’s GP when dealing with cases of long-term sickness absence but employers must ensure that they the employee has consented before acquiring these records.
Out of sight should definitely not be out of mind in the case of an absent employee – communication is key. Keeping in regular contact with employees throughout their period of absence allows employers to keep track of:
- whether the person’s health is improving;
- when the employee is likely to return to work;
- whether any reasonable adjustments can be made in order to facilitate the person’s return to work;
- whether any preventable work-related issues may have contributed to the person’s ill health and, if so, how further illness could be prevented in the future.
For more help with sickness absence issues, or to discuss any employee health issues, contact the free Fit for Work advice line on 0800 032 6235 or visit the website to find work-related health guidance.