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ACAS guidance on sickness absence updated

30th August 2023
A regular problem for employers, particularly for small and medium sized businesses is employee sickness.

Considering that sickness absence is a common occurrence, it is an issue which can cause significant problems and confusion to employers. The matter of how sickness absences are treated is complex due to the infinite different types of illness and the different types of business.

ACAS has recently published updated guidance for employers on dealing with sickness absence. The guidance indicates the need to deal with long term sickness absence differently from short-term absence. The guidance states that employers should differentiate between the reasons for absence can help identify patterns and assist in deciding what action to take. A single long-term absence due to a clear reason should be treated differently from repeated short absences. The sensible employer will seek professional medical advice in relation to any employee that is absent for a long time or has a pattern of frequent short sickness absences. Professional medical advice could reveal an underlying condition that may explain the pattern of sickness absences and help both the employee and employer make any necessary adjustments to the employee’s work or arrange for monitoring of further absences. Trigger points and reviewing systems should be helpful in managing sickness absences, so that any particular problems can be identified promptly and assistance provided when necessary.

The use of trigger points and regular reviewing can help an employer identify an employee that has a condition that could amount to a disability under the terms of the Equality Act 2010. This in turn should help the employer in determining how best to treat such absences so that they do not inadvertently subject the employee to treatment that could amount to disability-related discrimination, and that they comply with the statutory duty to make reasonable adjustments.

The ACAS guidance indicates that effectively addressing sickness absence should help to improve sickness absence rates and improve morale in a business. The employer should have a sickness absence policy, which is made available to all staff- so that employer, managers, and staff know what is expected of them. An important point that ACAS make in their guidance is that such policies need to be flexible to allow the employer to take proper account of the individual circumstances of each employee. A consistent approach is important, but following a policy rigidly can sometimes lead to unfair dismissal or discrimination claims.

The guidance is available on the ACAS website.

At Hallett Employment Law Services we can review an employer’s policies and procedures to assist with producing and operating absence policies and procedures appropriately, and ensuring that relevant policies are tailored to the needs of the particular business.           

If you need any further advice on any matter raised in this article do not hesitate to contact us at Hallett Employment Law Services Ltd.

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