How Do You manage employees who regularly throw "sickies"?
3rd September 2010
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Do you have employees who regularly take sick leave?

Do your employees believe sick leave is an entitlement and an addition to annual leave?

How do you combat employees taking regular sick leave?

Joy Arkley of the HRDept West Wales discusses the problem and gives sound advice on how to deal with absenteeism.

(CIPD Annual Absence Survey 2009 source document for facts and figures)
One of the positive outcomes of the recession has been an improvement generally in attendance in work. That said the average cost to employers of sickness absence is £692 per employee per year. This is not the full picture as this does not include overtime costs and the negative impact on morale.

Maintain regular contact with employees who are absent. A GP Fit Note is concerned with an employee’s capability to work. The employee is not under “house arrest”. They can be asked to attend meetings. Nor should management spend valuable time mulling over a GP’s decision about whether or not someone can work or not. It is not for management to debate whether someone is “genuinely” ill or not. Long-term absence is generally defined as any period of absence lasting 28 days or more.

New Employees

Make sure that they are aware of policies and procedures associated with reporting absent from work. Make sure that absence is part of the induction and probation process. Only 41% of employers monitor employee attendance.

Ensure that any period of absence is recorded and that on the first day back in work the line manager conducts  a return to work interview with the member of staff. This should follow a 5 point plan (see below)including making sure that the employee is fit to be back in work. This is also a good opportunity to explore reasons for absence e.g. poor job design, workplace relationships, patterns and trends e.g. absence around annual leave, school holidays, peaks or troughs in workloads.  83% of employers use return to work interviews as part of their absence management  policy. Return to work interviews must be used on every occasion regardless of who has been absent and the length of the absence.

The Five Point Plan
1. Welcome Back
This lets the individual know that they have been missed and provides an opportunity for you to brief them on how their work has been covered and any other information that they may have missed during their absence.
2. Enquire about Health
You need to know that the person is fit to be at work. You also need to explore the reason for the absence (research by CIPD found that only 1:3 occasions of reported sickness absence was genuine). What, if anything, can be done by the individual or us to help manage the sickness. What steps are being taken to improve attendance.
3. Consequences and Observations
Every employee has a responsibility to attend work and full attendance is a reasonable expectation. The impact of the employee’s absence should be explained in the context of their own individual attendance and sickness record. If appropriate, this can serve as an informal discussion about attendance patterns and the consequences if there is not a marked and sustained improvement.
What can the Line Manager and the Company  do to assist the individual to achieve satisfactory attendance ?
4. Completion of Formalities
A record of the meeting should be made and agreed, this should be placed on the employee’s personal file. This is important if further action (formal or informal) is needed in the future.
5. Future Action
In bringing the meeting to a close, the line manager, should summarise the discussion that has taken place and mention any decisions or agreements that have been reached. In appropriate cases he/she should re-state the standards of attendance that are expected and what action will be taken in instances where the required improvement is not made and sustained as appropriate.    

If there is a culture of throwing sickies – some staff ask HR how many sick days they have left so it can be seen as an extension of annual leave entitlement -  use recruitment, induction and probation  to change the culture. There is no reason why the majority of staff should not achieve 100% attendance. It does not matter how good an employee is when he is in work he or she is of no use to an employer when they are absent.

Establish if there is an underlying medical condition. This can be done by writing to the GP with the employees’ consent or better still using an Occupational Health Service Provider. Make sure line managers understand the new fit note. If there is not an underlying medical condition then this can be dealt with under the company discipline policy. If there is an underlying medical condition then reasonable adjustments, redeployment need to be considered. Funding may be available to assist with any additional costs.

Ultimately an employee can be fairly and legally dismissed due to incapability on the grounds of ill-health.  

There is a balance to be struck between providing support and firm action. The numbers of days lost due to sickness vary between large and small organisations and different sectors.

There is no quick fix to improving attendance and reducing sickness absence. The earlier the intervention by management the better the outcome. Sickness attendance is as difficult to manage as sickness absence.  Some organisations offer incentives to staff who achieve 100% attendance over a given period. This is a controversial approach as contractually employees are expected to attend work and receive pay in exchange for their time.  Employee assistance programmes are effective in helping staff cope with work-life balance and external stressors, many provide counselling services.


Make sure that the recruitment, induction, probation, discipline and performance management Policies and procedures reinforce the expectation of 100% attendance

Make sure that all staff follow these policies and that staff know the procedure to follow if reporting absent from work

Make sure that the policies are applied fairly, consistently and robustly

Make sure that new staff receive, sign and return a contract of employment

Do not offer contractual sick pay

Use absence as part of the criteria for redundancy and promotion

Work with third parties e.g. health professionals, external agencies, Occupational health etc to support staff

Provide training for all staff on managing absence including Fit Notes.

Joy Arkley offers a FREE HR Audit to contact her email or call 01239 639 128

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I am Diana Vickers, the site owner of thebestof Cardigan & Teifi Valley, which supports the very best of the area’s businesses with their promotions and marketing. The site is soon coming up to its fifth...

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