Short-term sickness absence policy: a 15-step guide for HR

A short-term sickness policy is an important and difficult task for a HR department, Personnel Today has put together their list of essential points to include in your policy. Here’s our taster of some of the list, follow this link for the full list.


Clarify the scope of the policy –

Employers should introduce their short-term sickness absence policy by reiterating the need for a balance between:

  • the genuine need for employees to take time off work because of ill health; and
  • the need to maintain the workplace’s efficiency and productivity, so that additional burdens are not placed on an absent employee’s colleagues.

It is important to make clear when the short-term sickness absence will not apply. The organisation might suspect there to be misconduct involved (for example, that the employee is not really sick). In that case, the employer can apply its separate disciplinary procedure instead.


Explain terms used –

The introduction to the policy can set out some key definitions, for example what actually counts as “short-term sickness absence” and when the employer’s separate, long-term sickness absence policy applies. Some other key terms in the short-term sickness absence policy may also need to be explained. For example, a “formal review period” could be defined as a period during which an employee is required to show an improvement in his or her sickness absence levels.


Set out your expectations for how managers deal with the situation – 

It is a good idea to set out early on in the policy line managers’ responsibilities in relation to short-term sickness absence. XpertHR employment law editors Sarah Anderson and Ellie Gelder explore the practical steps that employers can take when dealing with short-term sickness absence.

Among other things, employers can expect line managers to:

  • maintain proper records of employees’ sickness absence, including obtaining employees’ self-certification for sickness of seven calendar days or less, and medical evidence for sickness of more than seven days;
  • balance supporting a genuinely ill employee and encouraging better attendance in future;
  • seek medical advice where appropriate, including obtaining the employee’s consent required before seeking a medical report; and
  • conduct return-to-work interviews where required.

It is also wise to remind line managers of the duty to make reasonable adjustments for disabled employees.


Provide guidelines on what counts as a long-term sick absence –

According to XpertHR research, employers commonly define long-term sickness absence as absences lasting 28 or more calendar days. Employees should also be reminded of what they should do if they are off work sick. An employee would typically be expected to:

  • telephone their line manager as soon as they can at the start of the working day;
  • continue to keep their line manager apprised of the situation while they are off sick, for example by ringing in at the start of each subsequent day of absence;
  • provide the necessary documentation, for example a self-certification form for sickness of seven calendar days or less and medical evidence for sickness of more than seven days; and
  • attend a return-to-work interview where required.

Employees can be reminded that the more honest and open they are with their line manager about the reasons for their absence, the more support the employer will be able to provide.



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