How Do You Handle Winter Staff Sickness?

After a few months of cold winter weather and numerous ‘bugs’ going around the office, you might be wondering how best to handle winter staff sickness issues and how to keep your business running at full capacity. This blog will give you some tips on how to do this, until the better spring weather arrives.

How are you and your staff coping with the winter weather and the cold and flu bugs that always do the rounds at this time of year? Many people will need a bit of time off at some point during the year, to recover from an illness, so what are the benefits of managing absence in a proactive way?

Both long and short term absences can cost a huge amount – both financially and in terms of manpower. It’s never an easy conversation to have with your employees and it can be difficult to keep up with what action you can take, to keep within the law. The bottom line is this – do nothing and the problem won’t go away, but it could get worse. Finding out early on what’s going on with an employee who is absent can make a significant difference to your relationship with them and to their absence levels in the future. Talking to them allows you to get to the root of the problem and to provide them with the support that they need. By focusing on the absence it may also deter casual absenteeism – too many days off here and there.

Dealing with Short Term Absence

You should have a procedure in place that requires your employees to talk to a named person, rather than leaving a message, when reporting their absence. There should also be guidance on how soon after the start of the working day an employee should contact that named person, if they are too ill to come into work. A standard form should then be completed recording the date, time, reason given and predicted time of absence, to make sure the relevant facts are gathered consistently for each absence. If an employee does not turn up for work and does not report in sick, you should contact them by phone as soon as you can, to find out where they are.

Discussing the problem is essential; especially if one of your employees keeps taking days off for sickness. Maybe there is a work issue which you can help them deal with and solve. Providing the support they need will result in an improved working relationship, better morale and less time off sick.

You should always speak to the member of staff when they return to work, irrespective of how long they’ve been away. It shows you’re taking the situation seriously and acts as a deterrent for people who shouldn’t really be taking time off. Asking how someone is feeling after they’ve been off for even one day also shows that you care about them. Keep the conversation informal but take it seriously. Ensure confidentiality, have a clear structure, record what is said and above all, remain positive and supportive. You can ask them if they visited their GP, how they are feeling now and if there anything you can do to support them. Just remember not to ask any intrusive medical questions!

Communicating with your employees improves productivity and decreases absence, so follow these simple guidelines when dealing with short term sick leave.

There is plenty more advice on the Acas website, with guidance as to what to do when any of your employees take time off for being ill this winter. You can find the information here.

Are You Up To Date with What You Can Ask an Employee?

Book you place on our next Employment Law Update workshop.

There are certain questions that you cannot ask an employee who has been off sick. What’s more, what you can ask and the rules on how to handle the situation change from time to time, as changes are made to Employment Law. You can search the internet and HR publications for news on all the latest changes, which will be happening on 1 April 2017, but do you really have the time?

Twice a year we run interactive workshops that bring you details of all the changes to the law that you need to know about. We do the research so that you don’t have to! Our next workshop will be from 10am – 1pm on 30 March 2017 at Hennerton Golf Club in Wargrave, Berkshire. Before the event we will do the digging to find out about all the important legal changes that might affect your business and your employees. Then we deliver them to you in simple sections throughout the workshop, helping you to understand what you need to do about particular changes.

The workshop costs just £20 +VAT, to include plenty of tea and coffee to keep you going through the morning. You can ask any questions you have in total confidentiality and talk to the other participants about how they will be handling the next round of changes.

Click here to reserve your place now.

Managing the Malingerer

Managing sickness absence is always difficult and dealing with someone who you suspect is not genuinely ill has always been trickier. You might have seen it happen and had your suspicions, but how to you prove that the sickness was not genuine? It’s not easy, so here are some suggestions to help you.

Step 1: Identify and assess potential evidence

The first step is to identify and record available evidence to support your suspicions.

If you have evidence that one of your employees is being dishonest by claiming to be off sick when he or she is not, you may be able to discipline them or even dismiss them for misconduct.

Mere suspicions and rumours will not be enough to show misconduct. However, social media has the potential to provide a good source of possible evidence. If you are presented with evidence from social media, perhaps from another employee, you can use it in the same way as you would any other anecdotal evidence or an employee tip-off.

The credibility of the evidence retrieved from social media will need to be tested in the usual way. Has the information been taken out of context and are the dates of posting accurate?

There is debate over whether social media posts are in the public domain or private, in which case, your employee could argue that this breaches their right to privacy. However, interference with the right to privacy can be objectively justified and might be permissible if you have reasonable grounds to believe that your employee is fraudulently claiming sick pay.

In general, as an employer, you should be able to rely on such evidence, but each case would need to be assessed on its own merits and ‘fishing’ exercises are never advisable.

Step 2: Review the evidence

If your evidence of malingering looks robust and credible then you should be able to start a disciplinary process for misconduct.

A lack of evidence of dishonesty does not mean that you cannot challenge an employee you suspect is not really as ill as they claim. People will often continue to take unwarranted time off where they believe their absences are passing unnoticed.

You can address this by ensuring that return-to-work interviews are carried out following each occasion of absence and encourage your line managers to probe further (or push for medical evidence) if faced with evasive or inadequate answers.

Step 3: Give evidence of misconduct

If you believe you have evidence of dishonest behaviour, it is important not to jump to conclusions. Remember that employees do not have to be bed-bound, or even at home, in order to be unfit for work.

An employee posting pictures of himself on holiday or doing sport or other leisure activities may still be genuinely unwell. Many health conditions do not improve as a result of lying in bed. It is still important to carry out an investigation, as you would for any other allegation of misconduct.

How do you spot malingerers?

Some of the signs include patterns of absence, such as the same day each week; triggers for absence, such as being invited to a disciplinary meeting; reluctance to provide medical evidence or attend appointments; posts on social media; tip-offs from colleagues and reports of activities that seem inconsistent with ill-health, such as undertaking other work or going on holiday.

Step 4: Remember to follow your procedures

Before disciplining or dismissing the malingering employee for misconduct, you must follow your own procedures and the Acas ‘Code on discipline and grievance’, as you would do in any other disciplinary scenario.

You will need to put the evidence to the individual, hear their explanation and consider if that explanation requires further investigation and medical evidence may be needed.

You must also consider the individual circumstances of the case and any mitigating points, such as length of service and previous disciplinary history, as well as how similar cases have been dealt with in the past.

Make sure you follow this process any time you are unsure of how ill an employee really is. If in doubt about how to handle such a situation, contact us by calling 0118 940 3032 or clicking here to email us and we’ll help you through it.