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One of the key factors in running a business is knowing what resource you have available to deliver your products and services. Managing the process when part of that resource is suddenly unavailable can be a huge frustration especially when it’s a key member of the team who is ‘off sick’.

There’s a wide variety and scope of reasons for employees being away. Some of the absences are planned such as holidays or maternity and paternity related events but many others are unplanned. The tactics and principles for dealing with them need to reflect both the timing and the reason for the non-attendance.

Is the absence genuine or not? Most sickness absences are genuine as are the majority of instances where there is requirement to provide caring for a child or other relative. Time off for domestic emergencies is not always a paid absence, so make sure that’s specified in the absence policy. Sometimes patterns or frequencies of absence emerge within the records which can give an indication of other issues.

An employee who is absent or late every Monday morning - may have some other domestic issues which they need to discuss or alternatively the person who’s repeatedly off sick the day before and/or the day after their pre-booked holiday might need a confidential discussion.

Payment policies and schemes can have an impact on levels of sickness absence. A generous payment schedule for sickness absences can be felt to ‘encourage’ absence for trivial ailments. However a minimal payment regime can sometimes ‘encourage’ individuals to either return to work before they are fit or often not take the time away when they should. This can have an adverse effect of the organisation as illnesses spread throughout the business.

Managing the return to work of someone who’s been off sick can require a sensitive conversation. It may need nothing more than the line manager checking the employee’s self-certification form and acknowledging them with a ‘glad you’re back and fit again’ comment. Alternatively it may need a more detailed discussion to review any underlying issues and actions required to assist the business and the individual.

Longer term periods of absence need different approaches. This includes considering if changes to the employee’s job role or working hours assist a faster return to work. These and other measures can only be considered and implemented by retaining an open and positive dialogue between the business and the employee.

Overall, sickness absence is best managed by considering the the following – ‘sickness’ is something treated by qualified, professional, medical practitioners, whereas ‘absence’ is a business issue that is managed by the organisation through positive timely and appropriate communications and recognised procedures. It’s important to make sure accurate records are made and retained to support the discussions with employees about attendance and sickness absence and actions related to it. Sickness absence records must be 100pc reliable if they are used in any part of the selection criteria for redundancy.

David Hill, is HR Consultancy Director at Ward Hill in Norwich. You can contact him at infohr@wardhill.co.uk or 01603 753585

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