advo hr gives a reminder on planned and unplanned absences from work prompted by clients asking to clarify the rules around ‘Fit Notes’ and what employees and employers should rightly expect.
All organisations will experience staff being absent from work and so managing absence in a way that is fair to both staff and employer is therefore essential.
Absence can come under a wide range of circumstances, either planned and authorised, for example, annual leave and maternity. On the other hand unplanned and unauthorised absence, which includes mental or physical sickness, could also include such things as travel disruption and domestic emergencies.
It is important to consider and plan for each type of eventuality. Having policies in place and communicating so staff understand their responsibilities is essential. Each company will have their own protocols, for example, at advo a member of staff caught up in an unplanned absence must call and speak to their line-manager before 9am. This is then recorded with staff undergoing a back-to-work interview.
If an employee fails to turn up to work without any reason being given or contact being made, the employer should attempt to contact their employee as soon as possible, including using an emergency contact.
If contact cannot be made the employer should discuss the reasons for the absence with the employee on their return. If no satisfactory reason is provided, it could likely warrant disciplinary action.
If a worker is absent due to sickness for seven days or less they can self-certify their absence. This means the worker informs their employer that they are not well enough to work and do not need to provide any further medical evidence.
If a period of absence due to sickness lasts longer than seven calendar days (regardless of how many days they work each week) then an employee must provide their employer with a fit note.
A Fit Note (or The Statement for Fitness for Work), is a medical statement that your employee would get from their GP or hospital doctor. The Fit Note differs from the old sick note in that it aims to focus on what an employee can do at work, rather than what they cannot do. A doctor can use a fit note to advise if your employee is either not fit for work or they ‘may be’ fit for work.
When stating that they may be fit for work, the GP should consider fitness for work in general, not fitness for a specific job that the employee is doing.
If a worker may be fit for work, a doctor can suggest ways of helping the worker get back to work. This might mean recommending:
- A phased return to work
- The option of flexible working
- Changing their type of work and duties
- Making a change to their work area
An employer should consider any recommendations made on a fit note. Accommodating the changes may help the employee be fully fit for work quicker. If the absence is due to a disability, then an employer must consider making ‘reasonable adjustments’ to help them return to work and carry out their job.
If the employer is unable or unwilling to make the recommended changes, then the employee may remain off sick for the duration of the fit note.
Contact during sick leave
There should be regular contact between the employer and an absent employee. An agreement should be reached as to how often and how the contact should be made. This should be used to:
- Check on their wellbeing
- Be clear about what pay is received
- See if there is anything they can be doing to support the employee
- Explain any updates that took place at work while they are away
Returning to work
It is recommended that a return to work meeting takes place whenever absence occurs. Having this outlined in your employee handbook is therefore advisable, so everyone knows what is expected. These discussions are usually informal and brief and held as soon as possible. A back to work meeting is generally intended to:
- Welcome the employee back
- Check they are well enough to be back at work
- Discuss the reason for the absence
- Update the employee on anything they have missed in the business during their absence
If the employee has been absent from work often, a return to work discussion can be an opportunity to discuss any underlying problems causing this. For example, if the sickness is work-related or if they are having any problems at work or home.
The important points here are to make sure records are kept and your absence policies are kept up to date and communicated clearly to staff.
If staff call in with any stress or mental health issue make sure they are guided to your Employee Assistance Programme (EAP).
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