Employee sickness issues can create employee resentment, if not degrade into arguments of morality, unless they are handled carefully. You need to balance fairness with an assurance that the employee is not malingering or using the label of sickness as a ruse for unauthorised absence. If you are required to take legal action against an employee suspected of misusing sickness benefits, be aware of the legal risk entailed in such an action. Specifically, you need to be cognizant of the employee’s right to statutory sick pay or related contractual benefits.
Monitoring sick days
Taking preventive action against unauthorised absence is preferable to dealing with the situation after the fact. Observing the following simple procedures can discourage ‘sick’ days being used as for means of receiving an extra holiday.
Policy. Require employees to phone in sick rather than sending the information by email, require a brief interview upon an employee’s return after sick days, or have the employee fill in a form describing the reason for the sick day.
Identify patterns. A pattern of sick days occurring immediately prior or following a statutory holiday, or on Mondays and Fridays, should raise suspicions.
Type of sickness. Determine if frequent absences due to backache or headache indicate an ergonomic problem with the workstation or work activities, or other aspects of the environment such as lighting or noise levels, and if so, take remedial action.
Proceed with caution if you have suspicions, but no clear evidence, of employee sick leave abuse. Repeated absences can amount to a chronic disability and in that case, you could face an accusation of unfair discrimination. In particular, resist disciplinary action if the absences are pregnancy-related.
Statutory sick pay
Unless the employee is receiving a very low wage, most employees are eligible to receive statutory sick pay for several sequential days of illness. A flat-rate of statutory sick pay is payable for up to 28 weeks of illness. Depending on the amount of statutory sick pay paid out, an employer can file a claim with HM Revenue & Customs for the total or partial amount paid out in statutory sick pay. Statutory sick pay mandates a minimum flat rate but an employer can offer a more generous benefit package as part of the employee contract.
If an employee is expected to be absent for a month or more, it is advisable to refer the employee to the Government’s Fit for Work program. The program can speed the return of the employee by offering free health information.