Case Study Sickness and Return to Work Interviews

Alison runs a small accountancy practice. Her receptionist, Lucy, has taken several short periods of sickness absence recently, 7 days in the first quarter of the year. Alison’s company does not pay contractual sick pay, their contracts state that statutory sick pay (SSP) will be paid where staff meet the eligibility requirements, and that the directors can use their discretion to pay salary to staff who are sick.

None of Alison’s employees has ever had more than a few days off so she has always used her discretion to pay full salary for sick days. She noted that quite a few staff had several single days off throughout the previous year.

Alison wanted advice on whether she could pay SSP only for any future periods of sickness that Lucy took and whether there were any suggestions we could make about absence management generally.

We drafted a letter to Lucy advising her that she had exhausted her discretionary sick pay and that future sick days would be paid as SSP only (for days on which she was eligible) as per her contract.

We suggested that Alison consider using return to work interviews for staff who are absent for a specific number of days and that she might want to consider adding such a policy to her staff handbook. We also suggested a return to work form that asks for the dates of absence, the reason for that absence and whether a doctor was consulted, to be given routinely to staff when the return from any period of absence.

We explained that any return to work procedure needs to be applied consistently in order to ensure the returning employee doesn’t feel “singled out” or make allegations that they have been treated less favourably. Where there is any indication of disability or long term illness we advised Alison to contact us for further advice.

Alison implemented the policy and used return to work forms for every sickness absence and interviews where staff were off for more than 3 days. She found that the number of overall sick days reduced for Lucy and other staff. The policy seemed to be a disincentive to take sickness leave especially for those regularly taking periods of short-term absence. Where there was genuine sickness the forms and interview were an opportunity for her to raise any concerns with staff and explore whether there are any underlying reasons for absence she should be aware of or which may require consideration.