Excluding sickness absence due to the coronavirus pandemic, sickness absence rates in the UK have fallen to their lowest records at 1.7% in the private sector, with experts advising employees are coming into work when they are unwell. Here are some (pre COVID-19) statistics on employee absence rates in the UK;
“70% of people still go to work even when they are ill” 
“Four-fifths of British employees continue to work when sick” 
“seven out of 10 employees in private firms – the equivalent of 18 million nationally – have at some point come into the office despite being unwell” 
“more than 40%…said they were afraid work would pile up if they were to stay off sick” 
The main concerns of employees attending work when they are sick include;
• the employer’s duty of care towards employees’ health and wellbeing and the impact this can have on job satisfaction and being an employer of choice;
• the ability of the employee to perform their role to their usual standard; and
• the increased risk of spreading germs across the workforce and impacting others.
The terms and conditions of payment when an employee is unable to work due to illness or injury should be outlined clearly to employees, as defined in The Employment Rights Act. Best practice would be to cover off sickness absence in the contract of employment and to have a Company sickness absence policy in place.
All employees have a right to Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) as long as they earn more than the lower earnings level (the LEL). SSP is not, however, payable for the first 3 qualifying days of absence (a qualifying day is a day on which the employee is normally expected to work under their contract of employment). There is a limit of 28 weeks’ SSP in any one period of sickness or linked periods.
How to best manage sickness absence in the workplace;
The first step is to have a clear and transparent sickness absence policy in place. The policy should include the following as a minimum;
1. Notification – who should the employee notify if they are unable to work, by when and what information should be provided at this time.
2. Documentation – proof of sickness via self-certification forms for less than 7 days / doctors note over 7 days / fit note.
3. Medical examinations – with the employees consent to undergo medical examination / occupational health assessments.
4. Payment – details of SPP or Company sick pay (CSP).
5. Management of sickness absence – recording and monitoring of sickness absence.
6. Reasonable adjustments – to support an employee’s return to work and/or health condition. This may include a phased return to work.
7. Termination on medical grounds – process for determining when an employer could dismiss on the grounds of ill health.
It is vital for employers to maintain contact with employees whilst on sickness leave, to stay up to date with how they are feeling and when they are likely return to work.
Return to work interviews create an opportunity to ensure the employee is fit to return to normal duties following a period of absence, as part of the employer duty of care, but also presents an opportunity for the employee to talk about their health.
Employers should also record all sickness absence data, including dates of absence and reasons, to highlight and identify any trends, which can then be discussed with individual employees if required. The data could also be used to highlight low levels of absence, which could reflect the potential of not recording sickness absence correctly or an issue with employees working when they are sick.
Problems relating to sickness absence should be dealt with via an employer’s disciplinary procedure provided ill-health is covered within the policy.
FAQ’s regarding sickness absence;
1. What should employers do when an employee is not genuinely ill?
This can be hard to prove and may require the input from a medical professional. However by recording and monitoring all sickness absence, employers have a chance to identify any patterns, and addressing with the employee if necessary.
Conduct return to work interviews to give the employee an opportunity to provide an explanation and prevent further occurrences or raise any underlying issues.
2. What should you do if an employee’s sick note has not expired but they want to return to work?
Ask them to get a fit for work note from their doctor (Prior to returning to the workplace) .
3. Can you force an employee to take sick leave?
Only if this is covered off in the contract of employment.
4. Can an employer contact employees while they are on sick leave?
Yes – regular contact should be maintained between an employer and employee whilst on sick leave, however, this should only be between normal hours of work.
5. Do I have to tell my employer why I am off sick?
Your employer can ask and will document the reason for sickness absence.
6. Is calling in sick during probationary period ok?
Yes, if there is a genuine reason for sickness absence – these things do happen.
If you would like further guidance or support on absence management or require advice on other people management matters please contact Clover HR on 0121 516 0299 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org
Copyright Clover HR
1. BBC Worklife, 2017
2. Insight, 2019
3. Independent, 2017
4. Guardian, 2018