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Dealing with Sickness Absence - A Straight-Forward Guide for Practice Managers

It is one of the most prevalent topics on the HR Helpline as well as being one of a Practice Managers biggest frustrations: what exactly can you do when an employee is off sick?

Our HR Specialist shares her best advice:

Return to Work Interviews

These are important. A back to work interview not only allows you to document the sickness period, it allows you to question the employee, understand the absence and offer the support the employee might need. If you’re an FPM Member, you could use our Return To Work Interview Form (After Sickness Absence) 

Ensure your policy is fit for purpose

The stronger and more descriptive your policy, the easier you will find it to manage sickness absence. Do you have trigger points? These are specific points that trigger the next stage of your process. It could be after three different periods of absence in 6 months, the next formal meeting is held. Having Trigger Points ensures that you always have a plan when an employee has regular sickness periods. Your sickness policy is not likely to be contractual and therefore it’s very easy to update and change. FPM Members can use our Sickness Management Procedure 

Occupational Health Reviews

Have a set date to offer an Occupational Health appointment to someone on long term sick. Ensure that you don’t leave it too long before starting the OH process. We recommend the first appointment being between 4-8 weeks of the start of the absence. FPM Members can start the process with our template Invite Letter for an occupational health referral.

Regular Updates

It is usually written in the Practice Sickness Policy or even the employee’s contract that they need to stay in touch with the Practice whilst they are off. This shouldn’t be a call every day, especially for an employee on long term sick, but at least every other week. This allows the practice to stay up to date with the employee’s condition and ensures the employee feels like the practice cares about them. If you commit to getting in contact every other week, ensure that this happens as missing or forgetting phone calls will have the opposite effect.

Keep in touch

Don’t be afraid to invite the sick employee to meetings or get in touch. I often hear practice managers say “I can’t get in touch because she’s off with stress” or similar. This simply isn’t true. Yes, you need to consider the employee and certainly shouldn’t take action that is likely to make their condition worse, however, it could be argued that an employee off with stress, particularly work stress, could actually have their condition improved if the practice gets in touch and attempts to sort any outstanding issues. 

If you do need to hold a meeting with the employee, try to make attending as easy as possible for them. This could be by offering to hold the meeting via video call so that they don’t need to leave home, for example. 

Do not 'do nothing'

Balancing the business needs of the Practice and the well being of employees is an everyday task for Practice Managers. But it is important that you still do this when an employee is sick. You can manage the situation and you can do right by the employee and the business.

Have your absence management plan in place

So finally, have a plan. Know your Practice’s Sickness Procedures and stick to them. It can be easy when you’re firefighting in Practice to put managing the absent employee to the bottom of your To-Do list, however even if it means tasking another Senior Member of the team to get involved, ensure that managing your staff sickness is always a priority and in turn, you will find it easier to manage in the long run.

If you’re an FPM Member and need help with Sickness Absence in your practice, get in touch with Samantha on our HR Helpline for one-to-one personalised, specialist support.


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