Absence notification procedures are usually the starting point of a good absence management process. The employee’s return to work will signify the end of the procedure but the period in between these events can be a problem area for employers.
They are often unsure of their position in respect of how involved they can become. Keeping in contact with the employee during the absence – and even a face to face visit – is advisable and can clarify many questions.
Absence Notification procedures
Absence notification procedures will normally 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 of absence, procedures may require notification every day but when absence becomes longer and is supported by a fit note, is daily contact necessary? The answer is ‘probably not’.
However, a sick employee should not be left languishing on absence and employers should take the following measures to keep on top of it:
- Include a provision in employees’ contracts of employment – in the employee handbook or separate absence management policy – reserving the right to make contact with employees who are off sick. They will then know to expect it.
- When employees notify their sickness absence for the first time without giving you the opportunity 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.
- Once absence is certified by a fit note and daily contact from the employee is not needed, arrange to keep in touch possibly once every few days to check in.
- If absence of more than 7 days is not certified by a fit note and you cannot get in touch with the employee, send a letter asking for the employee to get in touch.
- Where absence looks as though it might continue, seek to arrange an informal face to face meeting, sometimes referred to as 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 takes place at work, or 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 to this.
- Meetings should then be held as a result of the report to decide the best way forward.
Although these measures are important, the point needs to be made at this stage that reasonable contact during sickness absence is perfectly permissible and a sign of a responsible employer. However, employers need to strike the right balance between acting in the best interests of the business and being a sympathetic manager. Employees may be sensitive or embarrassed about their absence and an appropriate, rather than intrusive, intervention from the employer is needed.