24 Apr 2015  •  HR & Employment Law, Practice Management  •  4min read By  • Emma John

Is Sickness Causing You a Headache?

Sickness in any small business can be a real problem as each member of the team relies on one another to be able to operate effectively and efficiently. Here, Emma John shares her advice on how to reduce the amount of time your staff have off sick.

Something I frequently get asked on my consultancy visits is my view on how to reduce sickness levels in practice. My initial response is always the same – I ask the practice manager what the practice policy is on sickness and whether the full team are aware of it, as I believe this is always a good place to start.
After a number of these types of conversation, it’s become clear that many managers are concerned about the legalities and rights associated with sickness so believe it’s easier to not take any action. My view, however, is that staff members should be aware of the impact sickness has on the team.

Having a sickness policy
My advice would be to define a clear sickness policy, which includes a framework of what will happen in the event of sickness. As well as having a copy of this in the practice manual, I would also advise you give each staff member an individual copy so they can relate back to it as and when required.
A great opportunity to give a copy of this to staff is during their induction, so that they’re clear of what they should do and what then can expect you (the management team) to do in the event of absence.

Contacting your employees
Initially, it’s the responsibility of the employee to contact you to inform you of their absence – if they don’t, they are in breach of their contract. If they haven’t contacted you, it’s perfectly acceptable, and ‘legal’, for you to contact them and ask why they are absent.
When phoning an employee, remember there may be very understandable circumstances for them to have not made contact with you and this should be remembered during the initial contact. The employee should not feel you are contacting them to ‘tell them off’.

Asking questions
As a manager, you are permitted to ask a variety of questions that allow you to understand why the employee is absent. These types of questions include:
‘What effect does the illness have on you?’
‘Are you going to be visiting your doctor?’
‘When do you expect to return to work?’

Keeping notes
Always keep a note of the information an employee gives you, along with the date they initially started the period of absence, as part of their personal file.
Should your employee’s absence last any more than one day, you’re well within your rights to make contact with them again (this should be stated in your practice policy).
Should it become apparent from the start of their absence that they are unwell for a period of time and they’re given certification from their GP, I’d recommend to not contact them until this period of time has gone. There seems little point in contacting employees during this period as they may need rest and contacting them could create stress for them. The GP will have made it clear when he/she would expect them to be fit to return to work and this should be noted.

Unreported absences
If the employee has not informed you of their absence and, having made your telephone contact, you’ve decided there was no real justifiable reason behind the lack of contact then disciplinary action  should be taken.
If you don’t take action, the scenario could happen again and could set a precedent for other team members.
If you clearly define the effects and costs sickness can have on not only the business but the team too, in most cases, teams are really keen to embrace a clearly defined protocol of what to do.
For more articles and advice on managing your team, head on over to our Resource Library.

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