Whether short or long term, staff absence hits businesses hard.

Employment law advice

National Sickie Day 2019

According to national statistics the first Monday in February is the day when people are most likely to “pull a sickie”. Whether short or long term, staff absence hits businesses hard.

The top causes of sickness absence

Whilst minor illnesses are still the most common cause of short term illness, the number of people absent due to stress and mental health issues remains a major issue for employers in both the short and long term.

According to the CIPD’s Health and Wellbeing Report 2018, the main causes of sickness absence are:

  • Minor illnesses - More than three-quarters (81%) of organisations reported that minor illnesses such as colds, flu, stomach upsets, headaches and migraines were the most common form of short-term absence within their organisation.
  • Back pain and other musculoskeletal injuries - Back pain and musculoskeletal injuries such as neck strains and repetitive strain injury were cited as common causes of both short and long-term sickness for both manual and non-manual workers.
  • Stress and Mental ill health – Mental illness is now only topped by acute medical conditions such as cancer or heart attacks as the biggest cause of long-term absence in the UK, with nearly 40% of organisations reporting an increase over the past year. The CIPD’s report cites heavy workloads, organisational changes and job insecurity as among the top causes of stress. Non-work factors such as family and relationship problems and financial issues are also contributing to people’s stress levels.

How to manage sickness absence?

  • The Statement of Fitness for Work (Fit note) – If an employee is on sickness absence for more than 7 days in a row (including non-working days), they should provide a Fit Note. If the Fit Note states that the employee ‘may be fit for work’, it is a good idea to arrange to meet with them to talk about how you can help them come back to work. The Fit Note might help you with this conversation as the doctor may have suggested a phased return to work, amended duties, altered hours and/or workplace adaptations.
  • Return to work interviews – The Return to Work Interview is a very simple and effective way of discouraging employees from taking disingenuous sickness absence. They also help to identify any underlying health issues which are causing absences and enable line managers or HR to put measures in place to help prevent absence in the future.
  • Flexible working – Flexible working policies can allow staff to work from home or shift their working hours around. This can help staff achieve a better work/life balance, reducing their chances of developing stress related illnesses.
  • Training – Training for employees and their managers on how to cope with stress, mental health problems and other wellbeing issues can have a significant impact on absence levels.

For more information on how to manage sickness absence in your business please contact a member of the Employment team.