How to minimise the impact of Long Term Sickness Absence

The Helens

The Helens

Sickness rates across the UK labour market are at their lowest since records began with more people in work taking fewer days off.

However, the emerging culture of presenteeismwhen employees attend work despite being ill – coupled with an increasing openness around mental ill-health, means managing absence remains a significant challenge for business owners.

Mental ill-health is fast becoming a significant cause – a report by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) suggested 15.4 million working days were lost to work-related stress, depression and anxiety in 2017/18, up 24 per cent on the previous year.

Long-term absence brings with it multiple costs for organisations – financial, in sick pay to the individual, staffing costs for cover, as well as possible unfair dismissal or disability discrimination awards, and in lost productivity, both from the absent individual and their remaining colleagues’ increased workload.

Unlike awards for unfair dismissal, which are capped at 52 weeks’ gross pay (up to a maximum of £80,541) and require two years’ service, disability discrimination awards are unlimited, and the employee is eligible from their first day.

Five Steps to Managing Long Term Sickness

1. Have a comprehensive, well communicated Sickness Policy. This should include defined trigger points, the responsibilities of the employee and your expectations of them during their absence and the possible outcomes of long term sickness absence.

2. Ensure your employment contract includes your right to request an independent medical assessment (with the employee’s consent).

3. Consider ALL reasonable adjustments as advised by both the employee and their medical practitioner.

4. Record and date ALL dialogue with the employee to ensure you can demonstrate you have explored all possible alternative options.

5. If, after trialing all reasonable adjustments, responding to the advice of the medical practitioners and recording all the steps you have taken to assist the employee in returning to work, they are still unable to return in any capacity, follow a clear, defined and well documented exit strategy.

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