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Crafting a Robust Sickness Absence Policy

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It's really important that companies have a solid sickness absence policy in place - even smaller companies. As a small startup, it can be tempting to set the rules unofficially or agree them verbally with new employees, but this is a dangerous path, especially if problems arise in the future.

Sickness absence is costly for companies, and even if your company doesn't pay sick pay (why not?!), there are lost productivity and headaches when projects have to be rescheduled. Clarity and easy documentation are key to ensuring everyone involved is on the same page.

If you're overdue on creating a sick leave policy, read on to find out what should be included.

What a sick leave policy should contain

The most important thing is that they are written down, well communicated and accessible to everyone. Below are some of the key points to include in your policy:

  • How and when to inform the company about the absence
  • What options there are to see a doctor or occupational health consultant
    Rules for reintegration discussions (when they take place, what they aim to do, etc.)
  • How the attendance list is maintained (systems and who is responsible for it)
  • Guidelines for other absences, due to alcohol/drug abuse, grievances,
  • Disciplinary actions, jury duty, family emergencies - basically all other types of absence and how they differ from illness
  • Disciplinary procedures related to absence; Consequences for non-compliance with guidelines or absence for too long
  • Exceptions and accommodations for pregnancy-related illnesses, disabilities and terminal illnesses

Consider both short-term and long-term absence in your absence policy

Both periods need to be covered. It is important to first define the difference and determine which types of absence are covered in each case. Long-term absence is typically defined as more than a month, but there is no official standard for this.

Long-term things you should include are:

  • Requirement of medical proof of illness (sick note) and suitability to return (certificate of fitness)
  • Guidelines for regular contact or review between supervisor and employee
  • Entitlements to sick pay (what is statutory sick pay and what does the company pay contractually and for how long)
  • Staggered return and how it should work (e.g. a gradual increase in work hours or temporary assignment of lighter tasks)

In the short term, the following points should be taken into account:

  • Rules for taking time off work for doctor's appointments (and prenatal appointments - there are certain legal aspects here)
  • Advice on coming to work when sick - encourage employees to stay home so they don't spread anything in the office!

Make sure everyone understands them

Jargon doesn't help anyone, so make it as clear as possible.

People need to immediately understand what you're trying to say, especially in a frequently referenced document. This means: no complicated words, overly long sentences or abstract metaphors. Get straight to the point and divide the text into readable paragraphs with bullet points.

And terms need to be clarified - not everyone knows what "legal" or "liability" means, and even if they do, they might be confusing in this context. A simple pair of parentheses (like this one) to clarify terms can avoid a lot of confusion after the fact.

It's worth working through the Plain English Campaign's guide "How to write in plain English" or this excellent style guide from writing agency The Writer (which is suitable for both general corporate communications and policy setting).

Finally, make sure everyone in the company reads the policy - both to get feedback and to stay informed.

Your policy should support absence management

Every company - whether small, medium or large - will experience employee absences at some point. So you need to think early about how you want to deal with it and communicate this to all employees, otherwise the problem can get out of control. There should be no room for misunderstandings or careless employees blaming themselves.

Employees need to know where they stand so that if they ever feel unwell, they can recover knowing they will be supported. In the event of a serious illness (or mental illness such as anxiety), it doesn't help anyone if they don't know what will happen if they have to miss work.

Managers need to proactively manage their employees' absence - that's why we've written guides on alternatives to the Bradford Factor and employees taking sick days as vacation (and of course we've developed an absence management tool).

Implementing a well-structured sickness absence policy is vital for any organization's operational integrity. IceHrm offers tools and guidance to streamline policy creation, ensuring clarity, consistency, and effective absence management. Empower your workforce with clear guidelines to navigate sickness absences seamlessly.

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