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Handling sick leave

Why you should record and follow up all absences

Investigate sickness

All absence, no matter how short or inconsequential, should be recorded and investigated.

Monitoring absence doesn't just cut time taken off sick - it can also uncover other reasons for absence, such as stress or bullying in the workplace.

Many firms use a return-to-work interview, where a manager discusses the reasons for the time off with an employee on their return, as a key monitoring strategy.

The interviews should extend to all staff - including management - and should be carried out even when an employee has only taken one day off.

'If all staff are aware that each time they are off sick they will be asked why, it will help them realise they are important to the team and their absence is noted,' said Margaret McMahon, senior policy adviser at Acas, the government-backed employment-relations body.

Keep a record

Maintaining a record of when and why staff have missed work can also be useful for revealing patterns in absences.

'If you discover a member of staff is taking every other Monday or Friday off sick, you may want to talk over concerns about whether they were really ill,' said Amanda Galashan, director of employment law advice firm EmployEase.

And managers should never be afraid to ask about the specifics of an illness instead of accepting that someone was 'generally run down'.

'Rather than greeting an employee with "Hi, how are you?" when they return, it can be useful to find out more,' added McMahon.

One way of doing this is to get employees to fill in a self-certification form - particularly if the period of absence is less than seven days, the amount of time required before a doctor's note can be issued.

This can also be important when tracking the amount of times employees have had similar illnesses and looking at what can be done about it.

If a member of staff is continually off with headaches it might be appropriate to suggest they see a specialist rather than continuing to take aspirin.

'Find out if there is anything you can help them with. For example, if you have an employee health scheme, they may be able to use that,' added Galashan.

What next?

Alcohol abuse is one form of sickness. Find out how to deal with it if it happens in the workplace.

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