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Is sickness absence slowing your business?

Whilst some level of absence in the workplace is unavoidable, if not managed correctly, sickness absence can escalate, resulting in financial costs and reduced employee morale.

Recently reported stats include:

  • In July 2023, the number of people absent from work due to long-term sickness in the UK rose by more than 30%.
  • In 2022, the sickness absence rate in the UK rose to 2.6%, the highest it’s been since 2004 when it was 2.7%.
  • In 2022, the number of working days lost due to sickness or injury was an estimated 185.6 million working days, a new record high.
  • In 2022/23, stress, depression or anxiety, together with musculoskeletal disorders, accounted for the majority of days lost due to work-related ill health.

Persistent short-term absences

Occasionally, employees may need time off work for minor illnesses such as viruses and stomach upsets. However, any short-term absences can soon become persistent if not managed. Employers are advised to act promptly and hold a review meeting with the employee to discuss any increase in absence and the impact on the business. Expectations for improvement should be outlined during this meeting and an Attendance Improvement Plan (AIP) agreed.

If there is further persistent absence, the employer may need to progress the matter via the disciplinary procedure. However, where there is a reason to believe that there could be an underlying medical condition which is contributing to the absence, the employer would be well-advised to request a medical report from the employee’s doctor or an independent Occupational Health Professional.

Long-term sickness absence

It is important that employees with long-term ill health conditions are managed fairly to avoid unfair dismissal or disability discrimination claims. Long-term sickness absence is usually absence lasting longer than 4 weeks. Once an employee reaches this stage, a review meeting should be held. Where a return to work is not imminent, employers should obtain the employee’s consent to contact their GP to gather information in relation to their condition, prognosis, treatment, and any adjustments which might need to be put in place to support a return to work. Alternatively, the employer could request that the employee attends an Occupational Health assessment.

Following receipt of a medical report, a further review meeting should take place to discuss the content and agree any adjustments. If there is no prospect of the employee’s return to work in the foreseeable future, and there are no reasonable adjustments in which would facilitate a return to work, the next step would be to invite the employee to a capability hearing to discuss the potential termination of employment on capability grounds. However, every case varies, so the employer would be wise to seek HR advice before progressing on this route.

Policies & Procedures

An organisation’s absence management policy should provide clear guidance for dealing with any absence in a fair and consistent way, whilst supporting the wellbeing of its employees. If you’re an employer who needs help implementing such policies, our team are on hand to guide you through the process. Contact us on 01942 727200 or email Alternatively, visit our website to access a whole range of FREE resources including managing long-term ill health and persistent short-term absences to mental health and wellbeing in the workplace.