As an employer you have a legal duty – as well as a moral obligation – to safeguard your employees’ health while they are under your employment. Sickness absence is one issue that chews up a great deal of management and HR time – and handling sickness absences well and dealing with them as the law requires you to is not always as easy as it sounds. Managers often struggle to deal with sickness issues, and this can quickly have a knock-on effect on productivity and morale.
One area of employee welfare that has been in the news recently is occupational health after the Government announced that its Fit for Work assessment service is to close, due to low referral rates. The scheme was introduced in September 2015 and gave both employers and General Practitioners the power to refer employees for a free occupational health assessment when they had been absent from work for four weeks or longer. However, the Department for Work and Pensions has announced Fit for Work will cease operating this spring as a result of poor take-up. A survey by GP magazine last summer found that 65% of GPs had not referred a single patient to the Fit for Work service and that a lack of publicity was the cause.
What are the implications for your organisation?
Although larger corporations will continue to offer internal or external occupational health provision, small or medium businesses may need to source cover on an “as-needed” basis. Occupational health assesses very specifically the effects of work on health and also considers an individual’s health, ability and fitness to perform a particular job. Its purpose is to protect each employee to ensure that the proposed work does not in any way damage or compromise their health. It also allows you to assess what adjustments you may need to consider to help overcome the impact of a health condition when looking at it in a works context. The importance of seeking occupational health input at the earliest possible stage cannot be overstated. It can be invaluable in cases of recurring short-term absences caused by an underlying health condition, or long-term absences, and the statistics show that early intervention by occupational health can frequently turn a sickness absence situation around, in a positive way.
The consequences of handling sickness absence situations poorly are the risk of employment claims – including unfair or constructive dismissal and disability discrimination. It’s important that your managers know what they can and cannot do, and what processes they need to follow when an employee goes on sick leave. Training your managers in handling these sensitive conversations is key – and allows you to manage your risk and upskill your staff.
How can Gotelee help?
Our specialist solicitors are the first choice for many businesses – large and small – in Suffolk, Essex and beyond. Our aim is simple: to guide you to where you need to be in any employment situation, with a minimum of fuss and expense. At Gotelee, we can offer your business understanding, insight and practical legal advice to support and protect you (and ultimately your employees). We can provide bespoke training to your managers, which will give them the skills and knowledge to tackle sickness absence issues sympathetically and well.