Sickness: Is it serious

None of us like to think about getting ill, but if you run a business, it can be helpful to identify the leading causes and reasons for sickness in order to effectively manage workflow.

According to the Office for National Statistics, British workers took an average of 4.1 days off sick in 2017. Despite that being its lowest rate since records began – and a stark contrast to the 7.2 days taken in 1993 – sick days still cost employers around £29 billion each year.

Here are a few of the most common reasons people take sick days:

Cough and colds
Despite being a minor illness, sick days due to coughs and colds are by far the most common reason for absenteeism. According to the same survey from the ONS in 2017, 26% of respondents had taken at least one sick day for cold and flu-like symptoms. These accounted for 34.3 days in 2017 – more than a month’s worth of employment.

Aches and pains
Back and joint pain, as well as other musculoskeletal problems, were the next biggest source of absences. Here, 28.2 days were lost on average due to our aches and pains.

Mental health awareness
There has been a significant rise in sick days due to mental health conditions among 25-34 year olds. According to the Mental Health Foundation, mental health problems are the leading cause of sickness absence in the UK and account for around 9.6% took sick days last year. This is an increase from 7.2% in 2009.

Accident prone
A large quantity of participants in the ONS survey said they had taken days off sick for a category marked as “other”. When broken down, these are one off incidents such as an infectious disease, poisoning and other accidents. This is the third highest category, accounting for around 20% of sick days over the year, and the numbers stay relatively consistent.

Legal stance
As an employer, the best thing you can do is to try and plan as best you can. Keep the communication channels open with your sick employee but be careful if they are signed off for work-related stress. Ask them how they are and, if you feel you can, ask them when they are likely to be able to return to work.It may surprise you to know that it can be possible for employees to be dismissed if they are persistently off sick. However, prior to dismissal you will need to follow a fair procedure which should include looking at the amount of time that they are likely to be off for, obtaining medical advice and considering whether there are any alternatives. Employers also need to be aware of their obligations regarding disabled staff and any possible obligation to make reasonable adjustments. Employers should also consider whether the sickness could be due to personal issues or stress at work. If you know that any employee is going through a divorce or a bereavement, it is likely to be considered unfair to dismiss after a few weeks of sickness absence. Where an employee is signed off sick, employers can seek permission to approach the employee’s doctor, or ask the employee to see a doctor appointed by the employer for an independent report.
As an employer, the best thing you can do is to try and plan as best you can. Keep the communication channels open with your sick employee but be careful if they are signed off for work-related stress. Ask them how they are and, if you feel you can, ask them when they are likely to be able to return to work.

It may surprise you to know that it can be possible for employees to be dismissed if they are persistently off sick. However, prior to dismissal you will need to follow a fair procedure which should include looking at the amount of time that they are likely to be off for, obtaining medical advice and considering whether there are any alternatives. Employers also need to be aware of their obligations regarding disabled staff and any possible obligation to make reasonable adjustments.

Employers should also consider whether the sickness could be due to personal issues or stress at work. If you know that any employee is going through a divorce or a bereavement, it is likely to be considered unfair to dismiss after a few weeks of sickness absence.

Where an employee is signed off sick, employers can seek permission to approach the employee’s doctor, or ask the employee to see a doctor appointed by the employer for an independent report.

If you would like some more information or guidance around sickness procedures at your workplace, or you are an employee that would benefit from some advice, contact the Employment team at Downs Solicitors to see how we can help.

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