Top tips for managing sickness absences this winter

With COVID-19 infection rates starting to rise and winter cold and flu season kicking in, it’s no surprise that you may have already come across a rise in sickness absences in your business.

Minor illnesses like coughs and colds have been the main cause for sickness absences since Office of National Statistics (ONS) records began. This, paired with the risk of lower immunity to COVID-19 and increased transmission through more indoor socialising in the colder months, makes it likely that we will see a lot of sickness absence this winter. The NHS has already recommended that ‘Plan B’ measures, such as a return to face masks indoors and working from home where possible, are implemented due to rising COVID-19 cases. However, the government has not introduced any such measures yet.

So, what can you do to manage sickness absences and keep your business running as normal through these challenging times?

Our experts have summarised their best-practice advice, from short-term to long-term sickness absences, the process you should follow, return to work interviews, and recurring absences.


Implement processes

Establishing a fair and consistent process for absences is one way to help identify trends in absences, as well as making sure your employees follow the correct process when calling in sick, which may also act as a deterrent for not turning up to work. For the majority of employees, this process directly influences their decision to attend or not to attend work. As part of your absence policy, you should define the process both employees and employers should follow:

  1. Set out the time period employees have to inform their manager of their incapacity to work. Some employers request this one day before, others say within one hour of the employee’s normal start time – it’s up to you.
  2. We’d recommend you request your employees to call in sick over the phone. If they’re unable to do so themselves, someone needs to do it on their behalf. When the employee reports in, ask them what type of illness they have and what their predicted return date is.
  3. When the employee returns to work, conduct a back to work interview – regardless of how long they’ve been off for. Back to work interviews can act as a deterrent, in that employees will be less likely to take time off if they have to formally sit and chat about the reason for their absence.

With this process, you need to be able to respond flexibly to a particular individual’s circumstances (e.g., 10 years’ service with no absence, but this year they’re having a spate of bad health). You also need to consider any potential ‘discrimination’ issues connected with the absences.


Managing short-term sickness absences

We’ve all experienced it one time or another during our working life – “I’m not feeling too good today, can I be bothered to go to work or not?” Levels of short-term absence in a business depend on each individual’s answer to this question.

With some employees, an employer can never do enough to get them to choose the first option. In these cases, all you can do is monitor  absences, record the details, hold return to work interviews, and when the absence level becomes unsatisfactory, take disciplinary action.


Managing self-isolation

There are new self-isolation rules in place for England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.  If someone is under 18 or has been double vaccinated (for over 14 days), then they no longer need to self-isolate – unless they test positive with COVID-19, or have COVID-19 symptoms and think it best to isolate while they wait for a test result.

However, anyone outside these categories does still need to self-isolate for 10 days if:

  • They live with someone who tests positive
  • They live with someone who has COVID symptoms (unless they have a negative test)
  • They’re told to isolate by NHS Test and Trace; Test and Protect in Scotland; Test, Trace Protect in Wales or Northern Ireland’s Contact Tracing Service (‘close contact’ self-isolation)
  • They are ‘pinged’ by the NHS COVID app – however although they are advised to self-isolate for 10 days, this isn’t a legal obligation.


Looking for more information?

Sickness absences is a big and sometimes complicated area of Employment Law, especially in the current climate. So, for more information on sickness absences – from Statutory Sick Pay (SSP), to fit notes, to long-term absences (and more) – please download our free guide.

Managing short-term sickness absence

Our experts have summarised how you can best manage short-term sickness absence in your business.

Download the guide

How we can help

Our HR and Employment Law experts are available 24/7 to provide you with advice tailored to your business. From creating policies to taking you through disciplinary processes, we’re here to help.

If you’re an existing client of ours, please call 0345 844 4848. If you’re not already a client of ours, please call 0345 844 1111 to chat through your business’ needs and how we can help.

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