Sickness Absence: Busting the Myths for Employers
‘My employee is off sick – what am I allowed to do as an employer?’ Questions about sickness absence are some of the most common calls our Advice Line receives. Did you know that sickness absence costs small business around £300,000 a year?
The average employee takes seven days of sick leave per year, at an average cost of £550 per employee. Despite the major impact sickness absence has on their organisation, many employers fear taking any action. Why? Because of the myths surrounding what they can and can’t do when an employee is absent from work.
We’ve pulled together a list of the top five most commonly asked questions and myths, so you and your business know where you stand.
1. I’m unable to contact an employee during a period of sickness absence.
You have a duty of care to all your employees and so you need to keep in regular contact to check on their wellbeing. However, you do need to be careful when contacting them to ensure the purpose of the call is not interpreted as forcing them to come back to work before they are ready.
2. An employee hasn’t submitted a sick note, despite their sickness absence lasting more than a week. But there’s nothing I can do.
Sickness absence that’s unsupported by a fit note, may be viewed as an unauthorised absence. As such, you may be entitled to withhold pay, plus it can lead to disciplinary action. Before deciding on the appropriate course of action, contact the employee to find out why a fit note hasn’t been provided. Their illness may be preventing them from being able to obtain one and/or forward it to you.
3. An employee has called in sick and posted on social media that they’re out drinking. I can’t take action because I’ll be accused of snooping.
You’re well within your rights to question the employee about their sickness absence in this type of scenario, however it should be done with caution. Don’t jump the gun and assume the absence is disingenuous. There are many illnesses that prevent the employee from being able to attend work but don’t necessarily prevent them from socialising. A phone call or welfare meeting will help you to establish the facts before you decide if disciplinary action is necessary.
4. One of my employees has gone home sick after working for just one hour, now I must pay them for a full day’s work.
They should be paid for the hours they actually worked that day. The remainder of the day should be paid in accordance with your sick pay policy. You should discuss their payment with them before they leave. This ensures they are fully aware of any financial detriment before they make the decision to go home.
5. I’m unable to let my employee return to work before the date indicated on their fit note.
If the employee wants to come back to work before their fit note expires, they can do so as long as you are satisfied this will not exacerbate the illness or put other employees at risk. There’s no requirement for them to be “signed back” to work by their doctor.
Further Advice and Support
This blog post contains general guidance for sickness absence only. If you’d like to develop an absence management policy, develop some trigger points, or you currently have an employee who is absent from work; call our Advice Line on 0345 073 0240 (selecting option 2) for more specific guidance, tailored to the individual case.