Employment law regarding sickness can often create a bit of a headache for employers because of the confusion about what they can and can’t do about absent employees.
Absence notification procedures are usually the starting point of a good absence management process. The employee’s full recovery and return to work will signify the procedure’s end. Still, the period between these events can be a problem for employers and must be handled sensitively.
They are often unsure of their position regarding how involved they can become and what is considered reasonable contact. Contacting sick employees at home during the employee’s absence – and even a face-to-face visit – is advisable and can clarify many questions.
Absence Notification Procedures For Employers Contacting Employees On Sick Leave
Absence notification procedures will typically require employees who are too ill to attend work to inform their employer of their absence and how long they think it might last.
For the first few days, employer contact while on sick leave may require notification every day but when absence becomes longer and gets supported by a fit note, is daily contact necessary? The answer is ‘probably not.
However, a sick employee should not be left languishing in absence, and the following measures can get followed by employers contacting employees on sick leave:
- Include a provision in employees’ employment contracts – in the employee handbook or separate absence management policy – reserving the right of the employer contacting employee on sick leave. They will then know to expect it.
- When employees notify their sickness absence for the first time without allowing you to personally speak to them, e.g. via text or email, reply to say that you will give them a call later to clarify their notification. Calling an employee who is off sick under these circumstances is ok.
- Once absence is certified by a fit note and contacting staff on sick leave daily is not needed, arrange it, so you contacting staff on sick leave to keep in touch, possibly once every few days to check in is agreeable.
- If an absence of more than 7 days is not certified by a fit note and you have tried contacting sick employees at home unsuccessfully, send a letter asking the employee to get in touch.
- Where absence seems to continue, seek to arrange an informal face-to-face meeting, sometimes called a welfare meeting. This gives you dedicated time to address issues such as whether there is any support you can offer the sick employee in returning to work, whether their GP has suggested a course of action, etc. Suggest the meeting at work, the employee’s home, or somewhere neutral. Consider allowing the employee to have a companion, though there is no statutory right for this.
- If a GP medical report is to be sought, a letter will need to be sent to the employee asking for consent.
- Meetings should then be held as a result of the report to decide the best way forward.
Best Practices For Calling An Employee Who Is Off Sick
Can you call an employee who is off sick? Although these measures are necessary, the point must be made at this stage that contacting staff on sick leave, as long as it’s reasonable and not harassing, during sickness absence is perfectly permissible and a sign of a responsible employer. However, employers must strike the right balance between acting in the business’s best interests and being sympathetic managers. Although contacting sick employees at home during an absence is good management and shows concern for an employee, employees may be sensitive or embarrassed about their absence, and an appropriate, rather than intrusive, intervention from the employer is needed.
Contacting staff on sick leave FAQs
Is contacting sick employees at home legal?
There is no law against an employer contacting an employee at home during a period of absence from work. In fact, as an employer, you have a statutory duty to ensure the health and safety of your staff members. That said, contacting employees on sick leave must be done in a particular manner and not be overbearing or harassing. Having regular contact with an absent employee for the first few days of ill health, and then if the absence extends over a longer period, you could arrange to contact an employee who is off sick every 2-3 days.
Is contacting sick employees at home a good idea?
Making contact and visiting a sick employee at home during a period of sickness is not against the law, but you should exercise caution. The issue comes in what your motive may be for doing so. Contacting sick employees at home via telephone, text, or email would suffice. Arriving at an employee’s front door during an absence from work may be too much contact. The employee could feel pressured and could consider it an example of aggressive and intimidating behaviour. Employer contact while on sick leave should include phone calls, letters or emails.
I was calling an employee who is off sick, and they had gone on holiday! Are they allowed to do this?
If you were calling an employee who is off sick and they had gone away on holiday, you may have been slightly surprised. But employees that are on short or long-term sick leave are entitled to take a holiday. Whether the employee’s condition is a physical illness, or a mental health issue, as long as it is not incompatible with them being unable to work, and they provided a fit note, the person is entitled to go on holiday.
What is the best way of contacting employees on sick leave?
The best way of contacting employees on sick leave can be decided between you and the employee. Depending upon the illness the employee is suffering from and the expected length of the absence, contacting staff on sick leave is a positive thing, and as an employer, you have a duty of care. You can set up a schedule of when to contact the employee to check on their welfare that suits you and them. Email, telephone, or face-to-face are all excellent ways of communicating during a period of sick leave.