Handling Sickness Absence


Ask yourself these questions: –

How do you manage your Sickness Absence?


Do you carry out Return to Work Interviews with those who have been off sick?


Are your Managers trained in handling Short and Long term sickness?


Do you have someone experiencing some Mental Health problems and don’t know what to do?





  • Given the high costs to business of sickness absence, it is important for employers to put in place and implement sickness and rehabilitation policies


  • Employers should take measures to facilitate and promote employee health, thus reducing the likelihood of sickness absence.


  • Involvement of occupational health professionals is a particularly effective tool in the management of long-term sickness absence and, as one of their functions is to examine sick employees, it is important to allow for this in employee contracts. )


  • Various steps can be taken to minimise the likelihood of employees experiencing workplace stress and taking time off sick as a result.


  • Employee assistance programmes can be used to promote health and wellbeing and provide help and support to individuals with personal or workplace problems.


  • Employers should ensure that they have in place a clearly worded sickness absence policy, including rules on notification, required evidence, payment of sick pay and return-to-work interviews.


  • It is important to maintain contact with employees who are on long-term sickness absence and, when they are ready to return to work, to devise a structured return-to-work plan and allow for adequate adjustments and support.


  • It is good practice for employers to implement a drugs/alcohol policy with the principal aim of providing support to any employee who has an alcohol or drugs dependency.


A short-term illness is likely to last less than seven days and so a fit note will not be needed. Common short-term illnesses include: –

  • colds and flu
  • stomach upsets
  • headaches and migraines

Basic steps for managing persistent short-term sickness absence

  • Ensure you have a robust sickness absence and reporting policy in place. …
  • Follow that policy. …
  • Consider if other factors might be affecting the employee’s attendance. …
  • Could the employee be considered ‘disabled’ for the purposes of the Equality Act 2010? …
  • Consider incentivising good attendance
  • Keep records and monitor those records


When you are dealing with a case of persistent short-term sickness absence many of the steps that get missed are: –

  • Gaining access to medical reports
  • Ascertaining any underlying reasons for the absences
  • Moving to disciplinary or capability processes

Long-term sickness absence is usually defined as a period of continuous absence of more than four weeks. The absence may be due to: –

  • an unexpected illness
  • a chronic condition
  • an accident or planned operation.

Long term sickness absence can be quite a daunting process to deal with a time.  Quite often your employee is not in the right place to deal with what they see as intrusive questions from their employer, they are often juggling their health along with health care appointments and their home life. 

As an employer you are torn; you need your employee to understand you respect their privacy, but you also have a business to run and other employees who require support to cover the absence.  All to often here at Westcountry HR we are helping clients to deal with these sensitive issues to enable them have conversations, follow the correct legal steps with the ultimate outcome of returning the employee to work. 

There can be occasions when absence is long term that the employee will not be returning.  This could be for numerous reasons; the most common one is that they are no longer able to perform the role that they were employed for.

Did you know there are 16 basic steps to follow?

Here are a few: –

  • Set out the long-term sickness absence policy’s purpose and scope. …
  • Set out expectations for managers and employees. …
  • Require employees on long-term sick leave to provide medical evidence. …
  • Stress the importance of keeping in touch with the employee. …
  • Explain employees’ sick pay entitlement.
  • What are the ill health retirement options?
  • What if the employee has a terminal illness?


If you are looking to implement any of the above, then get in touch with HR consultants, Westcountry HR, today!