Zee Hussain, Partner and Head of Corporate Services at Simpson Millar, shares some tips on managing long-term absences and supporting your employee's return to work:
• Maintain contact with your employee whilst they're on sick leave – employers tend to be quite wary of keeping in touch with employees on long-term sick leave. But, keeping in touch about their progress/recovery and any important workplace changes can be beneficial for both parties, and might even help relieve some of the anxiety your employee might feel about their return to work.
• Do you need to make workplace adjustments for your employee? Employers should explore what types of changes or adjustments need to be made to ensure their employee's return to work is as smooth and comfortable as possible.
Some employees might recover from their illness over a certain period of time and only need temporary adjustments, whereas others might have ongoing conditions or disabilities that require permanent changes.
For example, if your employee is unable to return to their normal working pattern straight away, a phased return to work might be the best option where they work flexible hours or part-time.
• Offer managers training or guidance on managing an employee's return to work – some managers might not have experience in dealing with employees who have long-term illnesses, so employers need to ensure that they are aware of what steps they need to take to facilitate the employee's return to work.
It's a good idea to have regular meetings with the manager before and after your employee returns to work, as you can address any concerns or questions they have and identify whether they need help.
• Look at patterns of behaviour – if employers notice that members of staff are repeatedly taking a lot of time off from work they need to establish why this is happening. This will help you separate those who are taking time off without valid reasons from those who have genuine reasons.
It will also help you identify whether there are more serious underlying issues that need to be addressed. For example, employees who are having problems at work – such as being bullied or harassed by other members of staff – might be afraid of coming forward and feel like they have no other option but to take time off sick as a way of escaping the issues. The sooner you can understand why your employees are taking time off, the quicker you can act and take the appropriate steps.
Whether you have an employee who has a serious illness or ongoing condition, long-term absences have to be handled delicately and on a case-by-case basis.
If you're concerned that your policy isn't comprehensive enough or you're not sure how to deal with a particular absence and need some legal assistance, our Employment Law solicitors are ready to lend a helping hand.