A guide to managing sick leave

It’s a given fact that your employees will call in sick from time to time. Whether they’re out for a day with a cold or out for a whole week with the flu, there’s no doubt that these absences will affect your business at some point.

managing sick leaveOf course, you want to treat your employees fairly, but you also don’t want to be taken advantage of. So how do you create a balance between compassion and proper discipline in managing sick leave?

How to write an effective sick leave policy

The very first step to successfully managing sick leave is to have a written policy in place. This way, absences can be managed as consistently as possible and employees can’t get away with abusing the system.

Some things to consider as you draft your company sick policy include:

  • Qualifying conditions: What circumstances allow sick leave?
  • Sick pay: Are your employees legally entitled to sick pay?
  • Length of absence: What is considered a long-term absence? How many absences should an employee be able to take annually?
  • Disciplinary actions: What are the consequences for abusing this policy? At what point are you able to dismiss an employee?

Most importantly, you want to be sure your employees know and understand the new policy. Keep them up to speed through regular information sessions and company-wide emails.

What should you do when someone calls in sick?

Now it’s time to put that policy to practice. When an employee calls in sick, use these tips to manage the situation more effectively.

  • Ask questions: Right away, you’ll want to get an idea of how long your employee expects to be out and why.
  • Obtain evidence: If an employee is off sick multiple days in a row, it may be time to obtain evidence of their inability to work in the form of a doctor’s note.
  • Keep documentation: When an employee calls in sick, have them fill out a sick leave form when they return. This way, you’ll have documentation of their absence and will be better able to identify any concerning patterns.

The more information you can gather, the better. Of course, it’s also important to use common sense. Demanding a medical note for a one-day cold is typically considered to be extreme (and, in fact, employees are only required to obtain a medical note after 7 days of absence), but you do want to have a paper trail. That way, you can know if this is their first cold of the year or the 5th cold they’ve called in for in the last 2 months.

Long-term sickness

Workers can be considered long-term sick if they are off work for 4 weeks or more. Dismissing long-term sick employees must be a last-resort, and to avoid being taken to an employment tribunal for unfair dismissal, employers should do these things first:

  • Consult with the employee about when they might be able to return and whether their condition will improve.
  • Consider an arrangement regarding flexible working, working part-time, working from home or remaining at the company in a different role, doing less physically taxing or stressful tasks.

Have a dedicated HR department

One of the best ways to manage employee sick leave is through a dedicated HR department. They can help you create a policy that complies with the law. They’ll also make sure that disciplinary actions are fair.

If you don’t have the necessary resources for an in-house HR department or if your department needs some legal support, consider outsourcing some or all of your HR. Solicitors like Helix Law offer monthly HR support retainers for businesses to call upon them any time any HR issues arise without needing to have the expense of an in-house team.

The bottom line

You may not be able to prepare for it, but you are in control of the way you manage sick leave.

These general guidelines are a good starting point, but you’ll have to work to find a solution that’s right for your business. Whether you let the HR department take care of things or take matters into your own hands, effectively managing sick leave will minimise the harm of these unexpected absences.