Sickness absence - ill- or well-managed

Sickness absence: some basics

Given the problems that sickness absence can cause, effective monitoring and management is essential. There are four key elements to monitoring and managing sickness absence effectively and fairly, and avoiding the pitfalls of unfair dismissal and discrimination law:

  • Good record-keeping – you need evidence enabling you to take action against a persistently absent employee or to be able to defend a claim of unfair dismissal and/or connected claims of unlawful discrimination
  • ensuring your employees know what is expected: clear rules on reporting absence and the possible consequences of absence
  • a well-drafted sickness absence policy
  • properly trained managers – managers need to know what to do right from the start of an employee’s absence, what the employer can do to help support employees back to work, and the risks of a discrimination claim if absence isn’t well managed.

Learn more about how to manage sickness effectively here.

The Bradford Factor

There are various ways to calculate sickness absence rates, but it is important to understand what is actually being measured. The “Bradford factor” is favoured by many employers because it identifies the number of episodes of absence, rather than just a total number of days, or percentage of time lost. It is especially helpful for highlighting persistent short-term absence because it gives extra weight to it. And it does not give adverse weight to planned absences (such as operations and convalescence).

Find out more about the Bradford factor at Simplify the Law.

Sickness absence policy

The key elements to include when drafting a sickness absence policy are:

  • make sure it is non-contractual, which means it does not grant individuals contractual rights and means you are able to amend it as often as necessary to meet your business needs; if it is contractual, you will need employees’ consent to change the procedure in any way
  • give details of how employees should report sickness absence, including when, how and how often they should contact you
  • for longer term absences, consider including wording on visiting the employee at home, and a duty to co-operate and keep in touch to facilitate the management of long-term absences
  • specify what medical evidence of the employee’s incapacity you will require
  • give guidance on fit notes and your duties to consider workplace adjustments
  • the right to ask the employee to obtain a medical examination/assessment by a doctor or medical practitioner and to request a report from the employee’s doctor, or an independent report, on the employee’s state of health with their consent (but remember that even with such a provision you cannot force the employee to agree to this)
  • the requirement to attend a return to work interview
  • what sick pay regime the business operates, for example, only Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) or company sick pay on top
  • link breaches of your sickness absence policy to your disciplinary procedure

Use the Simplify the Law drafting tool to create your own sickness absence policy.

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