Guide to managing sick leave – for small business owners

As a small business owner, it is likely that you will have had at least a couple of employees call in sick this winter and with the cold weather expected to last a while longer, sick leave may become a HR issue that you deal with well into Spring.

Unexpected absences can affect business productivity and profits and, if they become a regular occurrence, they may affect morale and motivation. As a small business owner, ensure that you manage sick leave effectively to minimise the impact of absences.

Overseeing HR issues such as sick leave may seem complicated but it is simpler than you think. To get you started, here are three top tips to help you keep on top of staff absence.

1. Set out clear policies and procedures

As a small business, any issue among staff – big or small – can have an impact on your company’s success. Laying down clear policies and procedures on how you tackle absence should prevent problems developing and will help employees recognise that you take this matter seriously.

It’s important to develop your absence and sickness policies in consultation with line managers and employee representatives. If your business recognises a trade union, you should also involve them. Think about what you need to include in the particulars and consider what will be relevant to you and your staff.

You could include details on some of the following:

  • How an employee should notify you if they are ill, late for work, or absent for any other reasons
  • When they should submit a self certificate or a medical certificate
  • Sick pay arrangements. Statutory – and any contractual. This should also be covered in the written statement of terms and conditions of employment.
  • When time off might be permitted, e.g. jury service leave and time off for emergencies involving dependents
  • Consequences of not complying with policy

Clear guidelines on sick leave can bring business benefits, including improved productivity and better profits, so having these in place is vital.

2. Measure and monitor absence

Setting up ways to measure absence and sickness in the workplace allows you to find how much working time has been lost, where absence occurs most and how often individual employees are absent.

You can also use the information collected to identify trends. If you notice a high level of absence in a department where motivation is a problem, you may want to take appropriate action to resolve the situation.

Monitoring absences will also make it easier for you to identify and deal with different types of leave appropriately. For example, you should treat an employee on long-term sick leave differently from an employee who regularly calls in sick on a Friday.

If you notice that your business has a high absence rate, you may need to think about improving your working conditions. Consider offering flexible working patterns, training and promotion opportunities, as well as other staff incentives.

3. Understand your legal requirements

As an employer, you are required to keep information on absence and sickness. However, this information is kept for statutory sick pay purposes only and should not contain reasons for absence.

If you would like to hold more detailed records – perhaps for the purpose of monitoring absence levels – you need the employee’s permission. This sort of information is sensitive personal data and you need to set out your sickness policy and provisions in your employees’ employment contract in order to document the details.

As a small business owner, you will understand that absence and sick leave is a serious matter which can heavily impact your business. Setting out clear policies, monitoring absences and understanding your legal requirements will enable you to keep on top of the issues and hopefully reduce the amount of time your staff take off.

Last updated: 22nd February, 2021

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