Management Tips··5 min read

10 Ways to Make Managing Sickness Absence A Little Easier

manage employee sickness absence

With the recent COVID-19 outbreak impacting businesses throughout the world, employers are scrambling to maintain continuity in business, despite facing the threat of employee illness impacting operations. Although managing sickness absence is a standard aspect of running any successful business, the volume we are all dealing with now is unprecedented. If you are facing staff shortages due to illness or curve-flattening quarantine directives that offset the viral spread from asymptomatic carriers, you can use some simple direction for managing sick employees in a way that is not only effective, but also a little easier. Use the 10 tips below to handle this situation like a boss while making responsible decisions for your employees.

1. Obtain proper documentation.

Refer to your sickness absence policy when requesting documentation from an employee who has called out sick. Typically, an employee is required to provide a doctor’s note after three consecutive days of missed work, with the note outlining if and when the employee is allowed to return to work. Provide your employee with any information required regarding sick leave, including information on payments made for sick days.

2. Keep in touch with sick employees.

Be sure to maintain consistent communication with the employee off work. The extent of communication is dependent upon the tasks of the employee, the culture of the company, and the severity of the illness; however, you should keep from calling too often to prevent the employee from feeling harassed. In addition to conversing about work topics, you should make an effort to incorporate casual conversation to ensure your employee feels cared for.

3. Allow absent employees to work from home.

If your employee is diagnosed with a transmittable disease and has recently spent time within your business office, allow employees to work from home while you request sanitation of the environment. This is a fantastic way to avoid the spread of office sickness. Depending on the severity of the illness, you may want to extend the work-from-home requirement for employees and make the required adjustments to begin managing a remote team. This sickness absence management strategy will mitigate further spread of the virus.

4. Incorporate cross-training.

Especially when working with transmittable diseases that have an asymptomatic incubation period, you just don’t know if other employees will soon start requiring sick leave as well. To mitigate the impact to company efficiency, begin cross-training employees as soon as possible. While not every employee needs to learn a completely new job, you can offer training for some of the most important tasks. Alert your employees that you are taking measures to keep business running as usual during difficult times and reward them once it’s all over by providing gift cards or bonuses for their participation during a time of need.

5. Implement return-to-work interviews.

Particularly when dealing with a long-term absence, you need to work with your employee to develop a plan for returning to work. Address facts specific to your employee’s medical requirements and determine if you will need to make adjustments upon your employee’s return to work. Having an expected day of return also provides you with the information you need to develop a plan of action between now and then, whether that means assigning extra work to other employees, or developing a plan of action your employee is to tackle upon return.

6. Keep a detailed record of events.

You must have an accurate and detailed record when managing sick employees, including notes summarizing phone calls or voice messages left. In addition, your phone calls should be followed up with summaries and any pending action items in writing. Be sure to take a non-judgmental tone and focus on facts when documenting the information. Should you be faced with legal proceedings, you should be well prepared to hand over a clear and succinct paper trail.

7. Provide reasonable accommodations when requested.

If a person has become disabled as a result of a medical issue, you are required to provide reasonable accommodations so he or she may complete the functions of their job. Realize that they may be impaired physically or mentally and therefore the way they carry out their duties may be affected long-term. Consider any reasonable adjustments you can make to welcome your employee back into the workplace.

8. Promote healthy workplace practices.

Employees are much less likely to miss work due to illness when they are taking care of themselves physically, emotionally, and mentally. Encourage employees to practice healthy habits both at work and at home by implementing a wellness package that rewards employees who participate. Often, insurance carriers have wellness initiatives that you can adopt but even if they don’t and you’re working with a tight budget, you can still schedule weekly walks or create a running club that meets every Friday afternoon (perhaps you can allow those participating to leave work a little early!).

9. Outline availability for Employee Assistance Programs.

Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) are excellent resources for employees – they offer assistance that helps them cope with any issues that affect their personal or professional lives. Employee illness can have devastating effects. Outlining the resources available to your employees empowers them with the right support that gets them back on track and back to work faster.

10. Dismiss employee.

If your employee has been out sick with no definitive plans to return to work, this situation may require that you move forward with termination. However, dismissal becomes tricky because of issues regarding unfair termination and disability discrimination. Therefore, it is imperative you work closely with your legal team to ensure you are covering all bases prior to moving forward with this action.

Employee illness impacts your business in a variety of ways – often, you are paying out wages for lost time and you often pay out overtime for employees who need to step in to balance the workload. However, sickness absence also has the potential to lower morale as workloads increase. You may notice overall productivity levels lower as well. Nevertheless, you hold the responsibility as an employer to ensure you are following policy, documenting each case clearly, and keeping open channels of communication with employees. This virus will pass and how you dealt with managing sickness absence will be remembered for many years to come.

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