It is an unfortunate fact that everybody gets ill sometimes. Unplanned sickness absence can be difficult to manage. However, if you are beginning to suspect that an employee is abusing sick leave when they're not actually ill, read our tips on how to address the issue and reduce unnecessary sickness absence in your organisation.
What constitutes sick leave misuse?
An employee that has frequent levels of absence and fails to provide sufficient or believable reasons for why they are absent, they may be misusing your sick leave provision.
Whilst it’s tempting to look at social media and become frustrated that your employee is seen to be out enjoying themselves when off with stress or is attending family events when they are signed off with a bad back, it’s important to consider how you might make the workplace more accessible for them to return to work. A phased return or a change to a stand up desk may make all the difference to your employee who has a bad back and can only manage an hour or two of sitting before they need to lie on a flat surface.
Set rules and triggers for sick leave misuse
It’s helpful to set boundaries as to what an acceptable or common level of sick leave is within your industry so that you can identify those taking more sick leave than anticipated. Be mindful to ensure you are not discriminating against employees whose absences are related to disability, and look at ways that you can make temporary adjustments to enable an earlier return if appropriate.
Deter employees misusing sick leave through your policy
There are ways to reduce instances of sick leave abuse, both before and when absences occur:
A detailed sickness absence policy can help by clearly outlining sick pay provision and pay. It should include how your organisation manages sick leave and what communication you require from employees who take time off work for sickness. Mention should be made to the practice of monitoring sickness absence, the need for employees to make contact themselves when calling in sick, the practice of conducting return to work interviews on return from sickness absence and the need to provide a Fit Note for absences of more than 7 days. Policies will usually state that a failure to follow the sickness absence procedure could result in disciplinary action.
Tips to reduce employees misusing sick leave
Ensure employees are aware of your sickness absence policy, particularly related to regular or unexplained or unauthorised absences.
Ensure that employees regularly maintain contact when they are absent through an email, phone call or text to keep you up to date.
Where absence lasts longer than 7 days, request that your absent employee provides a Fit Note from their G.P.
Keep a careful eye on levels of absence to identify patterns and numbers of days absence which could demonstrate the misuse of sick leave.
Conduct return to work interviews following all absences.
Record and measure absences to identify sick leave misuse
Recording absence is essential to identify levels and patterns of absence which helps identify where there may be misuse of sick leave.
Software is helpful in identifying and indicating to managers where an employee’s absence level hits specific thresholds. This could include that they have had a certain number of absence instances within a given period, or to calculate more complex absence management tools such as Bradford Factor scores.
How to manage an employee who you suspect is misusing sick leave
If you suspect an employee who is frequently absent is misusing sick leave, it is important to take an evidence based approach.
Managers should take the initiative in tackling when someone in their team is regularly absent to tackle situations of misuse. It is important to maintain regular contact with absent employees and ensure that a return to work interview takes place for every absence. This shows you are monitoring sickness absence levels. For genuinely ill employees, this is reassuring, and can ensure they feel valued. For employees playing truant, it can be a deterrent and acts as a reminder of the policy and a benchmark of an individual’s absence level in comparison with the norm.