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Sickness, absence and leave introduction image

Sickness, absence and leave

We are all human, sometimes we become unwell and require time off from work. Knowing how to effectively manage and prevent this is key to keeping valuable staff members and building a better business.

Your staff may need to take time off for poor health occasionally, maybe for a few days or maybe for longer. Managing this properly and knowing what you can do, and when, is a key factor in keeping staff healthy and in work. This is great for business as staff churn can be costly and affect productivity and performance.

There may be other reasons for absence which you as an employer also need to take into account.

Sickness absence is a big cost and disruption to business so the more you can do to minimise this and support your staff back to work the better it will be. Effective management of absence and providing the right support for people can be a balancing act but if you do it right it can help you reap the rewards of committed and happy staff.

As a manager or person in position of responsibility, it is important to address the whole lifecycle of employment, from recruitment, through keeping people well and managing a disability or ill health at work, to supporting people to return to work after a period of absence. It is important to facilitate conversations about stress and mental health and put in place support, so employees can stay well and in work – meaning they perform at their best for the business while the employer retains talent and expertise.

Mental health and disability is still the elephant in the room in some workplaces, with employers reluctant to raise the subject for fear of doing the wrong thing. Employers commonly fear making matters worse or provoking legal consequences. The culture of silence can cause issues to spiral into crisis, resulting in higher levels of sickness absence, presenteeism and increased levels of staff turnover. The good news is there is plenty of support available to help managers and businesses are doing more to combat ill health and disability at work.

People Managers’ guide to mental health - Mind and the CIPD have jointly developed this guide to help people managers overcome these challenges. The guide contains information, practical advice and templates to help managers facilitate conversations about stress and mental health issues and put in place support so employees can stay well and in work – meaning they perform at their best for the business while the employer retains talent and expertise

    Spotting the signs of potential workplace triggers for distress

    • People working long hours and not taking a break
    • Unrealistic expectations or deadlines
    • High-pressure environments
    • Unmanageable workloads or lack of control over work
    • Negative relationships or poor communication
    • An unsupportive workplace culture or lack of management support
    • Job insecurity or poor change management
    • High risk roles
    Download the checklist


    How can I better manage sickness absence?

    Ensure you have a clear process, which is fully understood by your team of employees. As part of this process include a ‘return to work’ interview as standard practice. By making it part of routine, managers will feel more comfortable having that conversation with their employees.

    What are your responsibilities as an employer with regard to sickness absence?

    Return to work interviews are a great way to manage absence. It offers a clear opportunity to start a conversation with your employee, without feeling like you are prying, especially if this is part of your standard sickness absence management process. It allows you to explore reasons for your employee’s absence and if there are any work implications that need to be addressed to prevent further absence occurring. It is important to encourage an open and honest workplace culture, so that your employees feel comfortable discussing any issues they might be having.

    To achieve sustained business growth and stability, staff need to be well and in work. Occupational health can help you do this with professional support.

    What is Occupational Health?

    Occupational health is a specialist branch of medicine that focuses on the physical and mental wellbeing of employees in the workplace. The aim of occupational health is to prevent work-related illness and injury by: encouraging safe working practices; ergonomics (studying how you work and how you could work better); monitoring the health of the workforce; supporting the management of sickness absence. An occupational health service might also: work with Employers to implement policies and ensure health and safety compliance; conduct pre-employment health assessments; support health promotion and education programmes; provide advice and counselling to employees around non-health-related problems; provide Employers with advice and guidance around making reasonable adjustments to your working conditions.

    How is Occupational Health provided?

    Occupational health provision will depend on the size of your organisation. It can be provided by a nurse with occupational health training and / or a doctor, or through a range of specialists, including: physiotherapists; psychologists; ergonomic experts; occupational therapists; specialist occupational health nurses and doctors. Occupational health is usually provided at an employee’s place of work, but if your employer does not have a dedicated service, you may need to travel to attend appointments with external providers.

    This factsheet from CIPD outlines the kind of occupational health services an organisation might offer and the role of confidentiality and consent in discussing an employee’s health.

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    Good businesses have begun to recognise the importance of looking after their employees’ health by providing occupational health support and advice. Safer and healthier working environments can help with the retention of your skilled staff, whilst boosting your potential to attract the best talent available. Offering professional occupational health support and advice can help you to minimise accidents at work, manage ill health and absence effectively, and give you some good advice on what steps you can take as an employer to keep someone in work and productive.

    Occupational Health - this factsheet from CIPD outlines the kind of occupational health services an organisation might offer and the role of confidentiality and consent in discussing an employee’s health

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    Apart from annual holiday entitlement and sickness absence, an employee might need time off work for reasons including:

    • helping a child, partner or relative
    • medical appointments
    • pregnancy-related illnesses and appointments, including IVF
    • bad weather or travel disruptions, making travelling to work difficult or impossible
    • bereavement

    Each workplace might have different rules on what they see as acceptable reasons for absence and what they will pay. For this reason, every workplace should have its own absence policy which sets out expectations relating to different types of absence.

    Acas and CIPD both offer further information and support.

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    Maternity leave

    Pregnancy and maternity are protected characteristics under the Equality Act 2010. It means that no one can be treated differently during pregnancy, childbirth or breast feeding under the act, and any action considered to discriminate will be deemed unlawful. Acas has developed these useful tools to help employers navigate maternity leave and supporting staff returning to work when their leave has ended.

    Find out more

    Paternity leave

    Some businesses allow paternity leave and anyone who has worked with a company for 26 weeks is entitled to apply. If it is refused an employer has to let their employee know within 28 days by issuing an SPP1.

    Find out more

    Parental leave

    Parental leave is unpaid leave given to a parent to take care of their child's welfare. It can be used for a non-emergency situation, such as a scheduled operation, to take a child around a new school, to visit grandparents and to help them settle into nursery school or new childcare surroundings. It tends to be unpaid leave, but it does not affect other pay entitlements or holidays.

    Find out more

    Adoption leave

    If you adopt a child you may be able to take adoption leave and you could be entitled to Shared Paternal Leave. For more information about claiming Statutory Adoption Leave visit the Government website and Acas has more information about adoption leave pay and rights.

    Find out more

    Compassionate leave and dependant leave

    Employees are allowed to have time off in an emergency to look after dependants, or in the case of a bereavement however, an employer may continue to pay them, but is not required to. There is no set time, as it is accepted that an emergency will take as long as it takes, but there is an exception if leaving work isn’t an emergency, such as a scheduled operation or appointment, but this may be covered by parental leave.

    Find out more

    Time off for religious and holy days

    Although there is no requirement to give a member of staff a day off for a religious event, it should be reviewed supportively and reasonably. Religion and beliefs are a protected characteristic under the Equality Act 2010, so everyone no matter what their religion should be supported and treated equally.