November and December are months when absence levels increase. Whilst a lot of this is related to the germs spreading due to dropping temperatures and increased time spent indoors, some of it is related to Christmas parties and last-minute Christmas shopping.

Last month, the consultation period on the government’s ‘Health is Everyone’s Business’ proposals closed. The consultation sought employer’s opinions on possible changes to statutory guidance for dealing with sickness absence.

Incapacity poses a significant issue for employers and the need to cover workloads but particularly if they consider that they are no longer able to continue employing an individual who has been on sick leave for an extended period of time. Although ill-health is one of the fair reasons to dismiss, employers risk falling foul of the law where they fail to implement a fair process or fail to obtain medical evidence. In light of the consultation, and the changes this may herald, we’ve put together the following pointers on best practice:

Reporting in

Employees should know who they have to report in to if they are off sick, by what means and before what time. We always recommend a phone call to a line manager or HR and specifically refer to texts, emails and voicemails not being an acceptable method of reporting in. Sending a text to confirm that you are too ill to attend work is easy. Employees think twice when they know that they have to call their line manager and explain their absence.

When the employee returns to work, even if it’s after one days’ absence, they should complete a return to work form. This will detail their absence and the reasons for it. It also allows employers to keep a record of how many days absence the employee has taken that year and will show trends such as days off always falling after a bank holiday or days off that fall on a particular day (such as Monday or Friday otherwise known as Monday/Fridayitis!).

Having a process in place is not to deter people from taking time off when they are unwell, it is to deter those who are not genuinely too unwell to come to work and are trying to have a duvet day or a day off for another reason. Allowing these days off places an extra burden on the rest of your workforce which can have an effect on morale.

Keep in touch

Employers need to actively engage with employees throughout any periods of sickness absence, not just when they consider it may be time to ‘let them go’. Keeping in touch through both formal and informal meetings not only makes employees feel valued but keeps you informed of their health allowing you to make informed decisions about their employment.

Occupational health involvement

Many employees start to suffer from work related stress when they face a disciplinary or performance improvement process. In some cases, this is genuine but in others a tactic to delay a process. This is more often the case when there is a company sick pay provision within the contract of employment. For those companies who only offer statutory sick pay, the periods of short-term absence are much lower. Employees who know that they won’t be paid for the first 3 days of absence are less likely to have duvet days.

Employees who are unfit to attend work aren’t necessarily unfit to attend a meeting or disciplinary hearing. Occupational health can provide assessments on fitness to attend meetings and this is a particularly useful way to ensure that meetings are progressed, and that sickness absence does not become a long-term issue.

Occupational health can also assist with recommendations on reasonable adjustments and return to work plans.

Obtain medical reports

Deciding to dismiss an employee as a result of their ill-health should be a last resort. Employers should obtain a medical report either from the employee’s GP or occupational health and seek guidance on what measures could be taken to facilitate an employee’s return to work.

If the report confirms that there’s no likelihood of a return to work in the near future, then you may be in a position to dismiss. You should always take legal advice before dismissing for ill health.

Take notes

Keep records of your meetings with any employee who is absent and summarise your understanding in an email or letter.

Implement a policy

A detailed Sickness Absence Policy is an essential tool for employers, allowing you to treat instances of absence consistently. Employers who have a policy in place and adhere to it have fewer instances of short-term absence and long-term absence is reduced by early intervention.

Please contact us. to review your existing policy or to implement a new one


CategoryEmployment Law, HR

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