We are often surprised at the number of small employers who have no system for recording sickness absence. Some will ensure that they ask for medical certificates if the period of absence exceeds 7 calendar days (in accordance with the Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) rules) but many do not have any sort of recording tool for short-term absence.
The problem for employers who do not record absence is that they find themselves in a difficult position if and when they feel they have a problem with an employee taking too much time off. If this has not been recorded, all they have is a general feeling and a problematic lack of evidence.
Sickness recording systems do not need to be complex. All that is required is a simple form to record the dates of absence and the nature of the illness/injury. A simple spreadsheet can then be used to record it for each employee and the form can be filed in their personnel file (make sure it is kept securely). It is then just a case of having a look at the spreadsheet on a regular basis (e.g. quarterly) to see if anyone is taking a lot of time off.
If you feel one of your employees is taking too much time off sick, you are then able to address this with them by showing them the record and having a discussion about it. At this stage you would deal with it informally to try to find out whether there may be any underlying cause (which could indicate a disability and a need to tread carefully), or whether they are just the sort of unlucky person who is frequently sick (or perhaps the sort or person who goes off sick at the slightest snuffle, or even perhaps someone who "swings the lead"). The outcome of the meeting would normally be an informal warning to explain that you expect an immediate, substantial and sustained improvement in their attendance or you will need to consider commencing disciplinary proceedings on the grounds of capability (or under a separate capability procedure if you have one). Unless you had clear evidence you would not be questioning whether the sickness absence is genuine, it would be a case of explaining that the business is unable to sustain this level of absence which is why you need to address it.
That is often enough to nip the problem in the bud. If staff know that you are going to address their sickness absence, they may well think twice before calling in sick unless absolutely necessary.
Other tools that can help change a lax sickness absence culture are:
- return to work interviews every time someone comes back from a period of sickness absence no matter how short
- strict rules about phoning in when they are off sick (e.g. phone calls to the boss, rather than a message via a colleague, or a text message)
- paying SSP only (although you would need to ensure you were paying in accordance with any contractual obligation)