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Tackling sickness absence

A Lancashire employment law expert is warning of the importance of tackling sickness absence.
Government figures from the Department for Work and Pensions show that workers taking time off sick costs the UK economy £100billion each year – 130 million working days.

Now the Government has announced it is to tackle the problem by launching a new Health and Work Service which will mean employers can refer staff for assessment once they are absent from work for more than four weeks due to illness.

It is hoped that such a scheme will stop short-term sick leave situations from turning into more costly long-term leave.

Now Claire Haworth, solicitor in the Employment team at Napthens, has reminded employers of the importance of tackling sickness absence issues head-on.

She said: “It is estimated that short term sickness alone accounts for 80 per cent of all absences. Therefore, the worst thing that employers can do is bury their heads in the sand when it comes to tackling sickness absence in the workplace.

“Employers are encouraged to monitor absence data. This allows businesses to establish if there is a genuine problem with absence levels; identify the type of absence they are dealing with and highlight any underlying causes such as stress, bullying and/or issues at home.

“Having an effective sickness absence policy in place will help management deal with absences consistently and effectively as well as putting employees on notice as to the standards of attendance and reporting expected from them.

“Return to work interviews are the best opportunity employers have to assess whether there is genuine sickness, problems at home or underlying issues at work which need to be addressed. In fact, there is some evidence to suggest that return to work interviews may help reduce short-term absence by acting as a deterrent.

“It’s important to remember that while policies are important, there is little point if line managers are not trained to use it or if it is not enforced consistently by managers across the business.

Line managers are typically the first point of contact for employees calling in sick. Therefore, they need to be trained up as to the appropriate procedure to follow and make sure they are asking the right questions from the outset.

This means training line managers to ensure they are fully equipped to tackle sickness absence issues and have an awareness not only of the legal and procedural issues, but the skills to ensure they know how best to approach any discussions with the employee.”