How to write an absence policy
No, we don’t mean step 1: pick up pen, step 2: pick up paper. We’ll walk you through best practice and structure for your absence policy that will support your business and your employees.
So, for starters, what should your absence management policy contain as a minimum?
- The reporting procedure: this should include how and when to report sickness absence.
- Evidence: this section covers what’s required for self-certification. It also explains when medical evidence is required, as well as any requirements to undergo examinations.
- Trigger points: this section covers the number of absences which would cause concern.
- Unauthorised absence: the policy should be clear about the consequences of failure to follow the procedure and/or to provide evidence.
- The return-to-work process: how to get individuals back to work after absence quickly and efficiently.
- Pay: include what payments will be received, should an employee be eligible, when absent from work.
The reporting procedure
Who, how, what and when? These are the rules of play for your employees when reporting sickness absence, so keep it clear and concise. No fluffy business.
Should absence be reported to an employee’s line manager, or someone else in the business?
You’ll also want to note how sickness is communicated – is this via phone or email? Are employees allowed to send a WhatsApp message if needed?
What information must be provided by the absent employee, and what is the escalation process if they don’t adhere to the reporting procedure?
More often than not, you’ll want to know about employee absence as soon as possible so you can make the necessary arrangements. Specify in your policy the time they should contact you by and the frequency at which you want your absent employees to make contact. Is it every day they’re sick, once a week, or update you when things change?
You probably won’t worry about one day written off by the common cold, but at what point will you require a Doctor’s note? In this section of your absence policy, you’ll need to cover when an employee can self-certify their illness and when they should submit a medical statement from their doctor (a fit note).
Generally, fit notes are provided when an employee has been absent from work for more than seven days. A fit note may also include a Doctor’s suggestions on how the individual can more effectively return to work.
You might wish to include that you may seek access to the employee’s medical records or even utilise an independent medical report in certain circumstances. You can also refer to occupational health services if you have them.
Next, you should include the number of absences in a particular time period which would cause you to have concern about someone, either in terms of so many short-term absences or one long-term absence.
Sounds pretty serious, doesn’t it? Well, that’s because it is. This is the section where you say yes, no, or maybe to unauthorised absence. This section of your policy should explain what will happen if one of your employees doesn’t come to work and gives zero reasons for their absence. It’s your escalation process – what will happen if employees fail to follow what you’ve laid out in your policy and your rights as an employer.
For example, this section of your policy should outline what would happen in a circumstance where an employee has failed to follow company procedure. Will this be addressed in an informal face-to-face meeting or a more formal disciplinary meeting? Whichever it is, you will need to set out who will be in attendance and the possible outcomes.
Of course, an employee who persistently fails to follow the rules should always be managed under your organisation’s disciplinary procedure.
Return to work process
Cast your mind back to when you were at school and you’d get six whole weeks off for summer, only to have to drag yourself back to the grind. Pretty hard right? That’s why many businesses opt to have a return-to-work process to ensure they ease employees in who may have had long periods of time off work.
Think about what you would consider to be long-term absence eg. four, eight, twelve weeks? Also think about how you would manage an employee’s return – is it practical to do so? How would that work?
Other areas this section might cover include:
- Welfare meetings
- Returning to work interviews
- A phased return to work
Yep, money talks! Note, as an organisation you have legal obligations in relation to employee pay when it comes to absence. So, what should this section of your policy cover?
Statutory sick pay
Statutory sick pay (SSP) is the basics, it’s what you’re legally obliged to pay to your employees, once they qualify, and they’re off sick. It’s also important to note there’s legislation around SSP and your policy must adhere to this.
Sometimes it can be a struggle to calculate SSP and apply it to your payroll, so it always pays to have software that does this for you.
Contractual sick pay
Businesses can opt to pay contractual sick pay (CSP) based on individual employee’s earnings whilst an employee is off sick. This can be paid on some, or all of an employee’s normal earnings. The rules of play for this are set by yourself and should be clear in your policy. You should also state that CSP includes the element of SSP required by legislation.
Usually, contractual sick pay starts after a minimum period of service, as set out by you as the employer and stipulated in your absence policy.
So now you’ve written the mother of all absence policies, what’s next?
- Communicate your absence policy
There’s no point in having a great policy if no one knows where to find it, or what’s in it. Save your policy in a shared area where employees can easily access the document. In addition, remind line managers about the importance of the absence policy.
- Get an expert opinion
We don’t want to put too fine a point on it, but your absence policy has points in it that your line managers, HR team and potentially even legal team will rely on in the future. That’s why it pays to get an expert opinion on your policy.
- Review regularly
As you’ll know, legislation can change at the drop of a hat. You’ll need to ensure your policy reflects the latest legislation to ensure your business is compliant. Be sure to set review dates for all your policies.