Increased absence in the workplace and how to deal with it

Many businesses in the UK are facing challenging times with the cost-of-living crisis, rising interest rates and high inflation, not to mention challenging energy bills.

To compound that, they are also having to deal with a rise in sickness absences as both COVID-19 and flu cases sweep the nation, affecting output and productivity.

Both are highly infectious and could produce a domino effect throughout the workplace. In the case of COVID-19 and influenza, prevention is key and practices that became common during the pandemic could be adopted to prevent the spread of illness such as ventilation, hand hygiene, cleaning and disinfection issues.

This double hit will be on top of absence through:

  • Short-term and long-term sickness, including mental health conditions and long-Covid
  • Bullying and Harassment
  • Stress and exhaustion
  • Providing support for a child, partner or relative
  • Attending medical appointments
  • Difficult weather conditions
  • Bereavement

No two workplaces will have exactly the same policy on absence. So, it is important to have a clear HR absence management policy that lays out what’s expected from both the employer and employee during the absence.

That policy should include:

  • Who the absence should be reported to, whether by phone, text or email
  • Subsequently keeping in touch if absent for a longer period
  • How the employer keeps track of absence and when a review may be needed
  • How someone with a disability can be supported
  • When should the employee be referred to occupational health or an employee assistance programme (EAP)
  • How much the employee will be paid and for how long – it could be the company offers full pay or Statutory Sick Pay (SSP)
  • When the employee needs to get a fit note

At the end of the absence, always conduct return-to-work interviews to discourage workers from taking unnecessary sick days and discover whether any other issues may be responsible.

Employers should take care as employees are permitted a reasonable amount of time off in certain circumstances to provide emergency care for dependants, so ensure that you do not treat someone less favourable for relying upon a statutory right.

In the case of disability, the Equality Act 2010 sets out when someone is disabled and protected from discrimination and covers a range of illnesses and conditions.

Employers must ensure that they do not discriminate against an employee because of either the disability or anything arising from it.

Need advice on dealing with absence and related employment matters? Contact us at AGS HR Solutions today.