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How to manage an employee on extended sick leave

Absenteeism is a big problem for Australian businesses. In fact, it has been reported that absent employees cost the economy billions every year. This is a staggering expense that could be reduced through proactive and preventative measures.

The opposite of absenteeism is presenteeism, when people turn up to work sick, which can also cause complications for employers. Although it appears to reduce absence levels, it doesn’t necessarily improve productivity and can increase the risk of serious health problems developing later on. Left unaddressed this can result in long periods of sick leave.

How might extended sick leave affect your business?

When an employee is absent from work due to a long period of sick leave, it can be a difficult time for them and a strain on your business. Changes to your business operations will no doubt be required. And there is also a risk of unexpected costs should you need to arrange cover or make adjustments.

To reduce the chances of this happening, it’s best to implement a prevention policy which promotes good health and wellbeing at work. For example, we now know that the pressure of today’s always-on culture can increase levels of stress and anxiety, eventually leading to burnout. This can have a damaging effect on the mental health of employees and subsequently impact attendance. Early intervention can help and reduce the risk of this happening.

Sadly, not all sickness can be avoided. Therefore it’s a good idea to know your rights and how best to manage an employee who is on long-term sick leave.

Manage the absence

Your sickness policy should inform all employees of protocol regarding sickness absence. This should set out the notification and certification requirements, and the penalty for failing to follow them.

You’ll need to keep in touch with the employee whilst they are absent and document your communication. You may also need to get a GP report, which requires the employee’s prior consent.

In addition to managing the absent employee, it’s important to address the gap that their absence has created at work. Could temporary cover be helpful?

Manage the return to work

If and when the employee is ready to return to work, consider whether a phased return might be beneficial. Assess the circumstances in which they are returning. Do you need to rethink their duties or adjust their work station? These are important considerations that will need to be addressed. Conducting a return-to-work interview will help you find the answers.

Special considerations

Long-term sickness could be the result of, or result in, disability. In either circumstance you would have a duty to make any reasonable adjustments required.

For help with managing an employee on long-term sickness leave contact your local HR Dept today.