As the snow falls, your employees may already have their hankies at the ready! Employee sickness is an issue that most employers will have to tackle at some point, whether that is an employee taking short-term sporadic sick days or an employee who is signed off work due to a long-term illness. Set out below are some useful reminders on how to deal with sickness absence.
Evidence of sickness
Employees should be asked to self-certify any sickness absences, regardless of the number of days that they are off work. This can be done by having a form for them to complete on their return, setting out the dates of their absence and the nature of their illness/injury. Such records allow the employer to properly monitor sickness issues.
If the employee is sick for 7 days or more, they should be required to submit a doctor’s note. This commonly takes the form of a “fit note” which gives an indication of whether the employee is totally unfit for work or whether they may be fit for work if some adjustments are made, for example their hours of work are reduced or their duties are amended. If the sickness absence continues beyond the period set out in the original note, the employee should be asked to submit a further doctor’s note.
Some employers have contractual sick pay schemes in place, usually meaning the employee will continue to receive their normal salary for a specified length of time. However, at a minimum, statutory sick pay (known as SSP) will usually be due if the employee earns, on average, more than the Lower Earnings Limit (currently £107 per week).
No SSP is payable for the first 3 days of any sickness absence. Instead, that period can be unpaid. After that time, SSP is payable for up to 28 weeks at the rate of £85.85 per week (although this rate usually changes in April each year). SSP is only payable in respect of the employee’s qualifying days, which are usually the employee’s normal days of work.
An examination by a company appointed doctor or an occupational health specialist can be a useful tool for the employer as it can help determine the root of the problem in an effort to find ways to minimise future absences. However, such examination can only be undertaken if the employee agrees to it.
Alternatively, you may wish to request a report from the employee’s GP. If the employee agrees to this, you must obtain their written consent in a specific way as the employee will be entitled to see any such report before it is sent to you.
An employee who has a physical or mental impairment which is substantial and long-term and which adversely affects their ability to carry out normal day to day activities will be considered as “disabled” for the purposes of employment law.
Repeated or long-term sickness absence can often be an indicator of disability so employers may need to investigate such absences further with the employee. Disabled employees are afforded significant protection from discrimination and the employer may even have a duty to make adjustments to the employee’s working conditions to accommodate their disability.
This guide is for general information and interest only and should not be relied upon as providing specific legal advice. If you require any further information about the issues raised in this article please contact the author or call 020 7404 0606 and ask for your usual Goodman Derrick contact.