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Staying on top of sickness

Staying on top of sickness
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Staying on top of sickness
Sandhya Iyer - HR Dept Sevenoaks Tonbridge Tunbridge Wells by Sandhya Iyer - HR Dept Sevenoaks Tonbridge Tunbridge Wells
Director - HR Dept Sevenoaks Tonbridge Tunbridge Wells

Whether you’re dealing with employees who have long-term health issues or individuals out to exploit the system, you need to stay abreast of the law when handling the potential minefields around sickness, says Sandhya Iyer of the HR Dept

Hands up any of you reading this who has had an employee off sick? Or do you run one of those very few, possibly mythical, firms whose employees have a 100% full health record?  The fact is, everybody falls ill at some point in time, and most employees find work a welcome respite when suffering from the odd cold or headache. However, this blog focuses on those employees whose sickness gets beyond a tolerable level, either due to an underlying long-term medical condition or because they have worked out loopholes in their company’s sickness monitoring systems and hope to remain unchecked in their bid to exploit them.  In both these situations, it will be your operations that suffer.

Most employers seem oblivious to the fact that a GP’s Statement of Fitness for Work (or ‘Fit note’) is of little help to them when it comes to managing an employee’s sickness – they ensure nothing more than your staff’s eligibility to receive Statutory Sick Pay. It does not equip you with the necessary tools to manage sickness actively – which is where Occupational Health comes to the rescue.

When an OH referral makes sense

So we’ve established that a GP’s Fit note only confirms an employee’s medical fitness or the lack of it. An Occupational Health (0H) report, however, outlines your employee’s capability to carry out, or inability to carry out, specific duties and tasks, in line with his or her job description and contract of employment, given their medical condition. As such, it offers employers a more practical - and certainly necessary – tool for managing employee’s sickness effectively.

As an employer, when drafting an OH referral and managing sickness, you must keep the Equality Act 2010 in mind and work within its parameters. Once you receive the OH report, working out action points for your employee could prove a minefield, if not adopted properly within the workplace. Understanding what you’re required to do by law is a complex business in this area, which is why it is vital to seek expert advice. 

In a nutshell whether you have a member of staff who genuinely needs time off for sickness because of a medical condition, or that very naughty, painful-to-handle member of staff who seems always to take off the Monday that follows a must-watch football game, sickness absence can be managed. Difficult situations do have to be tolerated with no outcome if they are affecting your operations adversely. A balance can be struck between being compassionate and objective as far as your employee is concerned and doing what works best for your operations. But it is imperative to seek professional HR advice when doing so, and in a timely manner.

The return to work meeting

As an employer, it is your responsibility to ensure your employee’s fitness to be at work when they return from sickness. But will you have to hold a ‘return to work’ (RTW) meeting even if they’ve only been off sick for a day?  The answer is yes. Ultimately you are responsible if you put your employee to work if they are on medication that might make them groggy or that makes it harder for them to take instructions – and the only way you can find out about this is to ask them. A good idea is to have your ‘return to work meeting’ over a nice hot cuppa, informally, first thing in the morning. And if dealing with the good ole ‘naughty’ employee we referred to earlier, every RTW meeting you hold with them will help you build up a healthy paper trail of the Mondays and Fridays they have taken off, making the situation a lot easier for you to manage.

Get that policy in place pronto!

Finally, as with everything HR, having a sickness policy in place will make your life a lot easier when managing staff sickness. It is not uncommon for employers to decide to seek professional help only when sickness figures get completely out of hand and start to affect operations. Instead, if you have a policy in place that clearly earmarks trigger points and states what will happen when such triggers are hit. It gives

you and your staff a clear indication of how sickness rates are to be managed. It holds you in good stead legally, too, when dealing with specific cases of sickness management. Of course, there will always be the need to support employees who are suffering from bona fide medical conditions. And your policy will offer guidance on how to manage such situations too, should one arise.

meet the expert

Sandhya Iyer is the director of the HR Department, helping small- and medium-sized businesses in Tunbridge Wells, Tonbridge and Sevenoaks, Kent.  A graduate member of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, she works with business owners, entrepreneurs and managers to prevent people problems and help them get the best from their staff.

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