There are a number of steps you should take to manage unexpected workplace absence and sickness effectively:
- Produce clear written procedures for reporting absence. See absence and sickness policies: what to include.
- Accurately record and monitor absence. See measuring and monitoring absence and sickness.
- Train managers on how to handle absence.
- Set targets for absence levels.
- Conduct return-to-work interviews after absences, interviewing sensitively to find out if there are underlying causes, eg domestic problems.
- Provide for special equipment if appropriate, eg specialist chairs or chair aids for employees with back problems. Find out about the help available to employers from the Disability Employment Service.
- Develop other initiatives to encourage good attendance, eg improvement of working conditions, introduction of flexible working, provision of counselling and healthcare facilities.
Statement of fitness for work or the fit note
A statement of fitness for work, also known as a fit note is a medical statement that doctors issue to patients whose health condition affects their ability to work.
Doctors may only issue a fit note after seven calendar days of sickness absence. For sickness absences of seven calendar days or fewer, employees can self certify.
A statement of fitness for work allows a doctor to advise either that the patient is unfit for work or that they may be fit for work if appropriate support is available.
In the latter case, the doctor will advise on the effects of the patient's health condition and, if appropriate, what changes you, as the patient's employer, could make - in agreement with the employee - to help them get back to work as part of their recovery.
While you don't have to act on the doctor's advice, the statement may help you make simple and practical workplace adjustments to help your staff return to work and reduce unnecessary sickness absence.
Regardless of what a statement says, you must still make reasonable adjustments for disabled employees under the disability provisions in the Disability Discrimination Act 1995.
CIPD absence management guidance
The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) carries out an annual absence management survey reporting on key findings and considers how owners and managers can move forward with managing absence in their business. The CIPD also have a number of guides, factsheets and Q&As on absence management.