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Sicknote Britain - Sickness Absence Management for Small Businesses


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It makes for depressing reading for the government, that Britain is losing £100 billion per year on sick days, but small business owners should be even more concerned if they see a ‘sick leave culture’ forming in their own office. While the government can deal with such losses better, small businesses could see their own profits slipping down the plughole, and a good sickness and absence policy could make all the difference between a thriving company and one that ends up going under.

On average, British workers take seven days a year sick - which doesn't sound terrible, but when you consider that the average is brought down by the number of employees who never get sick at all, you realize that there are some people who are a real drain on a business’ resources, and not always for legitimate reasons. It's fair to say that those with real health issues should be treated with dignity, sympathy and empathy, but at the same time there's a reason that the phrase “pulling a sickie" has become part of the English vernacular. Fortunately there are some simple absence policy tips that any small business can work with to cut down on those taking advantage, while offering those with genuine illnesses the support they need to make a full recovery. Here are some tips in improving your sickness absence management:

Sickness Absence Reporting

The first way to cut down on an office sick leave culture is to outline a clear sickness policy. Everyone at your company needs to understand the procedure for absence through sickness. Employees should be told to phone, not leave a message and to talk to their manager or someone of equal seniority. Employees should be told to phone in sick as early as possible, and to advise when they should be expected back in the office. These questions are perfectly reasonable and can act as a good discouragement for people abusing the system and ‘pulling a sickie’.

It is worth noting that unless you put special exceptions in employees’ contracts, they are only obliged to produce a doctor's note for their absence if they are away for more than seven days. That said, you can still make it part of your sickness policy that employees fill out an absence statement outlining when and why they were off, which can be kept on record.

Return to Work Interviews

A return to work interview may seem time consuming for management, but it's a real deterrent for people faking days off work, while those with genuine sickness will see it as their employee taking a real interest in their health and wellbeing. Those pulling sickies on the other hand, may decide that the scrutiny of an interview makes taking unauthorized sick leave far more hassle than it's worth.

Frequent Short Sick Days Are Worse Than Long Spells

Although it may seem illogical, most human resource managers agree that the common or garden ‘short, frequent, unannounced’ sick days are more disruptive to businesses than longer spells off. And of course, these are the types most commonly used by the sickie-puller.

It's with this in mind that some bright spark created the Bradford Formula - a simple equation to measure employee's sick leave and help you keep a firm absence policy. The equation is:

(S x S) x D = B

In the equation S refers to the number of absent spells, and D equals the total days absent over a year. B refers to the Bradford Formula score - the higher the score, the more disruptive the employee's sickness. This means that an employee who has taken seven days off consecutively [(7x7)x1=49] is less disruptive than an employee who takes five one-off days out [(5x5)x5=125]. Using this you can compile a table of sickness to expose the employees who have regular short absences, and you can take appropriate disciplinary action if they cannot provide suitable explanation for abusing your absence policy. If you do go down this route though, you must be consistent in punishment, or you are likely to leave yourself wide open for legal action to be taken against you and your sickness policy!

It might be that you just live in a culture of sickness, rather than a sick-note culture, however and there are steps that businesses of all shapes and sizes can take to improve the wellbeing of staff. Of course, not every office can afford to employ full time counselors and physicians, but small businesses can offer extra time for employees to take lunch if they visit a local gym, or can provide free fruit to boost workers’ immune systems.

It's important not to become overzealous in your sickness absence management. Not only are sick people usually considerably less productive than those who are allowed time to recuperate effectively, but bringing in those with flu, respiratory and stomach viruses when they would usually take a sick day can cause your whole office to come down with the illness. In these instances, its best to thank an employee for coming in, but to instruct them to head home for some rest - sometimes an office sick day really is just what the doctor ordered to guarantee a performance boost on return to work.

Iain Mackintosh is the managing director of Simply-Docs. The firm provides over 1100 legal documents and small business templates covering all aspects of business from holiday entitlement to health and safety regulations. By providing these legal documents (with content provided by leading commercial lawyers, HR and health & safety consultants) at an affordable price, the company intends to help small businesses avoid costly breaches of regulation and legal action.


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