The minefield of employee sickness and calling their bluff

For most growing businesses, employee sickness is a frustrating blot on their copybook. After all, it causes precious time and wages to go down the drain.

staff sickness absence

As businesses expand and the necessity for an HR department develops, it’s important that employees are monitored professionally so that they don’t take advantage of their boss and influence the business’ direction.

As an HR officer, employee sickness can be one of the biggest minefields in the workplace. Approaching the subject of an employee’s health must be handled with utmost sensitivity and respect for his or her privacy. Ultimately, business owners have a duty of care to ensure that the members of their staff are okay, and it is obviously in their best interests to see that sick employees make a complete recovery.

For employees themselves, pulling a “sickie” is akin to playing a game of Russian Roulette. Is it really worth the risk? In today’s modern world, if you decide to call in sick just to make sure that you can go out with your friends the night before, it’s not beyond the realm of possibility that your boss could find pictures of you partying hard on social media, leaving you in very hot water!

A proactive HR approach is make a quick phone call to sick employees in order to “check in” and show interest in their welfare. Not only does this allay any fears and remove question marks over their absence, it gives you a chance to reassure the ill employee that the business isn’t falling to pieces while he or she is getting better.

Some might suggest that calling sick employees demonstrates an overall lack of trust in them. Trust and honesty are key factors in getting every last drop of productivity out of staff members. HR requires an element of leniency at times, especially with employees who work hard and toe the line day-to-day. With these types of staff members, consider only calling them up in the event you require time-sensitive information that only they can provide.

But what about the so-called “troublemakers” and those that have a defined pattern of absence? A good example of a defined pattern would be someone that is regularly “ill” on payday — someone who likes to either spend their wages on a little “retail therapy” or in the local pub, perhaps!

Firstly, it’s important that any company’s HR department drafts a watertight absenteeism policy. This policy should clearly state what employees must do if they’re unfit for work, i.e., it should specify whom they should inform, how they should make contact (e.g., is a text message or email acceptable?), and so forth.

As a general rule, employees must provide a doctor’s “fit note” if they are out sick for more than seven consecutive days, including non-working days. Anything less than this requires the employee, upon their return to work, to fill in a form outlining the reasons underlying their absence, known as a self-certification.

Secondly, it’s important for any company’s HR department to have a progressive disciplinary policy in place, outlining the progression of discipline from an initial verbal warning all the way through to contract termination. If the company’s disciplinary policy has not yet been made clear to date, then consider including one in the company handbook given to all new starters.

Thirdly and finally, if you’re genuinely dissatisfied with an individual’s reasons for being out sick, the only way to nip it in the bud is to address the issue by talking face-to-face. By ignoring the issue, the HR department might be viewed as condoning the behaviour, especially if the individual in question has told his colleagues about his “sickie” exploits.

Be forthright and open; let them know you’re aware of the pattern of absences and reaffirm the company’s attendance expectations. It’s also an opportunity for the individual in question to open up about their issues. It’s possible that they suffer from an underlying condition that you were completely unaware of, and by having a frank and open discussion, you might be able to help them in ways they didn’t even know were possible.

Handling employee sickness can be overwhelming and leave you feeling like you’re walking on egg shells, but by being a forthright leader and developing a strong culture within your company, you can help to minimise the number of problem staff members.

Absence management software can and does help, and employee sickness patterns are changing. In a report of absentee rates for the first half of 2017, the ELAS Group found that National Sickie Day and Blue Monday are now a thing of the past, although Mondays remain a very popular day for absenteeism.



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