Is your sick leave policy ill-equipped to deal with staff absence?

News Article

According to the latest statistics, sickness absence loses the nation an average of 2.8 per cent of working time per annum, or 6.5 days per employee and, costs employers around £16billion.

As there is no statutory framework in place to offer guidance, employers need to set their own rules regarding the notification of sickness absence and it is helpful if they establish a clear policy that outlines the accepted forms of communication and relevant timeframes. Lara Murray, an employment law specialist at Palmers, explained: “Firstly, it is important to recognise while you have the freedom to set your own general policy, there are some set rules regarding the notification of sickness absence which apply for the purposes of being entitled to receive statutory sick pay (SSP).

“This means that whilst you may be able to assert that an employee has breached rules regarding notification of sickness for disciplinary purposes, you may not be able to withhold payment of SSP for that period.

“However, setting your own internal rules is good management, and whatever those rules may be, you should expect employees to stick to them. Ensure that you advise new staff of the rules at the outset of employment, and include them in your employee handbook too.”

When devising your policy, it is helpful to include the following:

  • Decide on the absence notification method. Whilst some employers may feel that a text message or an email is sufficient, in terms of good absence management processes, a requirement for the employee to personally speak to someone is more likely to deter non-genuine absence – it’s easier to hide behind electronic communication.
  • In order to ensure you can cover an employee’s absence, it is worth specifying a timeframe for notifying sickness. For jobs carried out during ‘normal’ working hours, an hour before start time will generally be sufficient. However, atypical hours may require different rules – and education establishments usually require notification before the end of school on the previous day.
  • You should also think about who needs to make the communication: do you require the employee to personally call in, or is it acceptable for the message to be conveyed by someone else? In most cases, there should be no reason that the employee cannot personally make contact, but a little leeway for extenuating circumstances could be included, e.g. if the employee is in hospital and is not in a position to make personal contact.

These rules will help you to manage staff absences better, and provide clear guidance to employees so that they understand the procedures they should follow if they are unable to attend work due to illness.

For information on how Palmers can help with all aspects of employment law, please contact us.