Sick absence (checklist)

Checklist for short term and long term sickness


In cases of capability due to sickness absence the procedure can be dealt with under a disciplinary procedure. However, for cases of genuine sick absence, there is little point in punishing an employee for something which is largely out of their control. Whilst this does not mean it should not be addressed, a more humane approach is better.

Return to Work interviews

Always have a return to work interview (RTW) with all employees who have been off sick, even if only one day. These need not be heavy formal interviews, for a day or two a quick conversation along the lines of “I see you have been sick are you feeling fully recovered now” is fine.

A more formal meeting is necessary for longer or more frequent absences. RTW interviews have been shown to be very effective in preventing the development of the “irregular attender” who has lots of odd days off. It lets them know management has noted it.

Short Term absences

Informal procedure

Where the number of absences is causing concern:

  1. Deal with it promptly- it won’t get better on its own.
  2. As a first step, investigate the facts: check records for number of days sick, the patterns of absence, any witnesses eg off sick with a bad back but seen moving heavy objects.
  3. Meet with the employee to explain their absences are causing concern, explore the reasons for the absences and explain that it needs to improve. Note that sometimes sick absence is masking other problems for example a sick child, bullying at work so listen with an open mind.
  4. Advise what is an acceptable level of attendance
  5. Write to the employee to confirm this.

Monitor the employee’s attendance after the meeting and deal with any further absences as RTW interviews or a further informal meeting. Do not stay with the informal discussions too long as they do not count in law.

Note that there is a balance as it is not in anyone’s interest for a sick employee to come into work. They will not be effective and may well pass it on to colleagues and make the problem worse.

If their attendance exceeds what is acceptable (check your procedures) then invite them to a formal interview under the Capability procedure.

Formal Capability Procedure

  1. Invite the employee to a formal capability meeting ensuring they are given the right to be accompanied.
  2. Repeat steps 1-5 above. Present the data on the number of absences
  3. If there is no acceptable explanation the employee should be issued with a formal improvement warning and advised of acceptable levels of attendance.
  4. If no or insufficient improvement is shown or it any improvement is not sustained, the repeat steps 1-3 above.
  5. The employee should be issued with a formal final improvement warning. It may be a good idea to discuss whether there are any underlying medical problems you should be aware of.
  6. If no improvement or insufficient improvement is shown or it any improvement is not sustained after 2 /3 reviews then dismissal on grounds of capability should be considered. You may wish to obtain a medical report to confirm that there is no underlying problem particularly if there appears to be a connection in the reasons for absence.
  7. The employee should be invited to a meeting to discuss their absence levels and to check if they have any reasons to put forward as to why they should not be dismissed on grounds of capability.
  8. If the employee can put forward no satisfactory mitigating circumstances then they should be dismissed on grounds of capability.

Long Term Absences

  1. It takes a long time to follow this procedure so do not allow the absence to continue for too long, a month is considered a long term absence unless the outcome and return date is known, such as where there is a planned operation or other procedure.
  2. Check you are receiving fit notes and keeping SSP records
  3. Keep in touch with the employee to see how they are progressing, but not so often that they feel harassed. Only communicate in writing if stress is involved and always check if the employee is happy to receive calls or emails at home.
  4. If there is no indication of when the employee is to return to work ask the employee for their consent to you obtaining a medical report from their doctor/consultant.
  5. Write to the GP for the report.
  6. Ask the employee to a meeting to discuss it. Consider a neutral venue if they are reluctant to come into work.
  7. Discuss their progress and prognosis and any adjustments which may help them return
  8. The length of time the employer is expected to wait for the employee to improve is a matter for them but a tribunal will take into account the length of service the employee has, the impact of their absence on the business and the size and resources of the organisation.
  9. If there is no date for a return to work or it is not possible to wait longer then the employee may be dismissed on capability grounds provided:
    • The employer has a recent medical report
    • The employee has been invited to a meeting to discuss their continued employment with the right to be accompanied
    • There are no reasonable adjustments which can be made to their role to allow them to return to work. It is essential to consider this if the employee is disabled but is sensible in any case to be fair.
    • There are no other alternative roles which they could do.