HR & Employment Law Insights

Helping family businesses, start-ups, charities, social enterprises, and other growing or established businesses throughout the UK make sense of HR and Employment Law challenges.

Sickness issues can cause big problems

If you need to create a staff absence and sickness policy for your company, then you might like to consider sitting down with your managers to discuss what needs to be set in place and what they believe needs to be included in your policy. However, there are certain criteria which should always be set out clearly so that you cover all the bases and staff know where they stand.

I speak to a number of business owners who tell me absence in their workplace isn't really costly as they don't pay company sick pay.  What they don't appreciate is the fact there is a cost - whether it's for someone else to cover the shift, rescheduling a customer order or failing to meet a customer's expectation - it all has an impact.  That's why it's really important to ensure you have a robust absence and sickness policy - it doesn't matter what type or size of business you are.

Below is advice on what needs to be set out clearly in a staff absence and sickness policy.

Points to Include in Your Policy

The points you need to include in a staff absence and sickness policy should include the following:

  • When an employee can take time off – this could include when they have been called to do jury service or if there is a family emergency as well as annual leave etc.
  • How staff need to notify you should they be sick or if they are going to be late into work. The policy also needs to incorporate why a member of staff would need to be absent due to a family member having been involved in an accident or if they've fallen ill. However, this needs to be made very clear that staff absence will only be permitted in the case of an emergency that involves a family member
  • The policy has to clearly explain how staff would need to submit a medical report from their doctor. It needs to be made clear whether a member of staff can “self-certify” they are unwell together with any implications should they fail to provide the necessary information in a timely fashion. It is well worth noting that under current statutory sick pay rules – self-certification is only a “must” after an employee has been off for four days and therefore from that time, they would need to notify their employers. A medical report would be necessary from the eighth day when a member of staff is absent
  • All statutory and contractual arrangements for sick pay should be included in the policy although this would also need to be set out in an employee's employment contract
  • The consequences an employee would have to face should they not adhere to the policy and this has to include any disciplinary measure that may be involved
  • The option of seeing an employer's doctor
  • If deemed necessary, an employee may have to take part in a “return-to-work” interview
  • The name of the person whose responsibility it is to keep attendance records
  • The policy should include references to other company policies which cover the misuse of alcohol, drugs and business areas which are health and safety related, e.g. disciplinary action, grievance, an employee's entitlement to annual leave, maternity/paternity leave etc.
  • Carry out return to work interviews each time someone is off. Not only is it a deterrent, but allows you to assess whether someone is fit to return, establish the root cause, understand if there are any work-related factors, offer support if required, and you can also update them on what they've missed at work.  Even a one day absence, it's important you do return to work interviews.
  • Return to work interviews creates a paper trail which you can refer to later if someone has persistent or high absence levels.
  • Should you suspect an employee has been abusing the system, then disciplinary action would be taken against them and this needs to be made clear in the policy
  • How excessive absence due to sickness can result in dismissal even though all employees who are sick will be treated sympathetically.  There are other points which you may like to include in an absence and sickness policy which are optional but well worth considering. This includes the following:
    • Offering your employees a counselling service should they need it
    • You might like to set up a rehabilitation programme for staff who suffer from long-term illness
    • You may like to offer employees an attendance bonus or incentive being careful not to discriminate an example would be where pregnant women or disabled people are involved
    • You may think it necessary to appoint an Absence Case Manager


With small businesses losing many days of staff work due to staff sickness it is really important for business owners to set up an absence and sickness policy so that employees understand the “rules”. It’s important to detail when having time off is permitted and when it is not tolerated. Staff need to know where they stand when it comes to notifying their employers if they have time off whether they are ill themselves or have to deal with a family member's sickness.

It's important that a boss tackles sickness absence pro-actively and to identify any underlying causes so they can address the issues. Poor health in the workforce can often be contributed to unhappiness in a working environment or difficult work schedules to name just two things that can be resolved if identified and then put right.