Persistent sickness absence is the bane of many managers’ lives, especially when there appears to be no major health issues or perhaps when the absence tends to coincide with school or bank holidays!

A large number of employees dread having to take a day off sick and only do so if they genuinely cannot perform their role due to ill health or having to undergo medical treatment such as an operation.

However, I’m pretty sure we’ve all encountered one or two people who seem to phone in sick at the drop of a hat, perhaps with a Monday morning tummy bug or a Friday migraine. For employers, dealing with these employees can be extremely frustrating and seem less than straightforward.

As an employer, your job will be made considerably easier if you have a clear sickness absence policy. A well-written policy should enable you to identify any genuine underlying problems and support employees to return to work as soon as possible, while providing you with a strong framework for the fair and consistent handling of every case.

A good policy should outline how employees should notify you if they are ill, sick pay arrangements, details of return to work interviews, methods used to measure absence and trigger points for action being taken. Don’t accept sickness notification by text or (unless the employee is unable to speak) from another person.

Remember that there is no right to sickness absence. The issue is whether someone is fit to be at work. There is also no right to paid time off so if the company has a discretionary sick pay policy, you must ensure you exercise that discretion. Otherwise you will fall foul of those employees who take a paid day off here and there.

Ensuring that return to work interviews are always carried out, will reduce the chances of employees ‘swinging the lead’ and taking a day off ill without any question. The interview should deter people when they know they will be meeting with management on their return and expected to explain their absence.

If you believe an employee is phoning in sick but the reason they are giving doesn’t warrant them staying off work, you can ask them to come into work to discuss the matter or advise them that they will need to take the time off as annual leave.

Persistent short-term sickness absence, with no underlying medical condition or other reasonable reason, can be treated as a disciplinary matter.

If you have implemented your sickness policy and found that return to work interviews and trigger points have failed to produce an improvement in attendance, repeated unexplained or unjustified absence can be treated as a conduct issue leading to disciplinary action and ultimately dismissal.

If the employee does cite a health issue as the reason for his or her absenteeism, for example a bad back or diabetes, you can insist that the employee is referred to an occupational health specialist who can provide an independent assessment of your employee’s condition and fitness to work.

The key is to implement your own procedures in a completely fair way, making every effort to support your employee back to work. Implementing your disciplinary procedure in the case of a suspected malingerer must also be done in a fair and transparent way – investigate thoroughly, gather your evidence and hear their explanation.

Above all, don’t be afraid to proactively manage sickness absence. This will benefit those employees who genuinely need your support, will demonstrate fairness to those who never take a day off sick, and enable you to deal firmly with those who are too free and easy with their duvet days.

If you need advice about any employment issue, call me on 01782 205000 or email laura.franklin@beswicks.com