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| 2 minutes read

Another 'I am sick' phone call

It was reported last month that the number of people off work due to long-term sickness hit a record high of 2.5 million in the three months to August, an increase of almost 170,000 from the previous three months - according to the latest Office for National Statistics data. Experts suggest that this large increase is being driven by long Covid, worsening mental health and the long NHS waiting list.  

With sickness absence continuing to rise, employers need to ensure that they deploy effective absence management, which involves finding a balance between supporting employees with health problems and ensuring that your business objectives are not compromised by repeated short or long-term absences.  This can be achieved through a combination of clear procedures, good communication and early intervention.

  • The purpose of any sickness absence policy should be to set out the organisational procedures for reporting and managing sickness absence fairly and with the view of helping employees to return to work.
  • Employees should be reassured and confident that any information they provide about their health will be handled sensitively and in a confidential manner. 
  • Sickness absence may result from a disability and therefore at each stage, particular consideration should be given to whether there are reasonable adjustments that could be made to the requirements of a job or other aspects of working arrangements that will provide support at work and/or assist a return to work.
  • Where the employer is concerned about the reason for absence, or frequent short-term absence, it may require a medical certificate for each absence regardless of duration.  
  • Cases of unauthorised absence, including where absence has not been notified according to the sickness absence reporting procedure, can be dealt with under your disciplinary procedure.
  • Employers can require the employee at any time to attend a medical examination to understand their condition.
  • During sickness absence, employers should continue to contact the employee from time to time to discuss their wellbeing and expected length of continued absence from work. Employers should also arrange a return-to-work interview. All meetings should be designed to better understand the reasons for absence. Where the employee is on long-term sickness absence, meetings should determine how long the absence is likely to last. Where the employee has been absent on a number of occasions, meetings should: determine the likelihood of further absences; consider whether medical advice is required; consider what, if any, measures might improve the employee's health and/or attendance; agree on a way forward and any action that will be taken and a timescale for review and/or a further meeting under the sickness absence procedure.

Whilst many employers are nervous about actively engaging with employees that are off sick and find managing sickness absence a significant risk area, our experience is that effectively engaging with employees who are unwell can help in supporting the employee’s recovery and quicker return to work. 

The number of people off work due to long-term sickness has hit a record high of 2.5 million, according to the latest ONS data.


employment and pensions, employment tribunals, health and social care, national minimum wage, redundancy