With the government estimating that sickness absence costs employers up to £9 billion a year, managing the balance between supporting individual employees who are unable to work due to illness with keeping levels of sickness absence as low as possible across the whole business is possibly one of the trickiest things to get right.

Over the years, I’ve been able to help quite a few of my clients with queries about sickness and statutory sick pay so I thought a blog post about it might be useful.

There are two aspects to absence that are important to consider; how employees are paid during their illness and how you can help them whilst they are ill.

The payment aspect of sickness is relatively straightforward from a payroll point of view. Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) is paid at the basic rate of up to £94.25 a week and is paid to employees through the payroll in the normal way, with any tax and national insurance deducted. It is paid for a maximum of 28 weeks and starts after the first 4 working days of illness (known as the waiting period). Employers can choose to top up the SSP to bring their employee’s pay up to their usual amount.

Employees will be asked to provide a fit note after 7 days of sickness (including non-working days i.e. weekends) which would normally be written by their GP or hospital doctor.

But there are other ways an employer can help employees through sickness absence before, during and after it happens. The most important thing is to have a written sickness policy in place which makes it clear to everyone what the process is around being unable to work due to illness and how the employer will help the employees. This might cover things like SSP and top ups, what communication is expected and how the return to work will be managed and should also detail the formal process that will happen if the frequency of sickness absence becomes a problem. This kind of information can also be written into an individual employee’s contract if appropriate.

What happens after an employee has called in sick depends of course on the nature of the illness. For relatively short term illnesses or injury such as the flu or broken bones, then the employer can just keep in touch with the employee until they are ready to return.

But for longer term, more serious illnesses such as a cancer diagnosis or mental ill-health, a different approach will be required. Keeping in touch with your employee and their family is important and will most likely be welcomed but discuss with them first about what they feel is an appropriate level of contact during their absence and try not to go over that.

Don’t pressure them into returning to work before they are ready but as soon as it is appropriate, start talking to them about it. See what adjustments can be made for them such as part time working, shorter hours etc or whether a new role or location would be appropriate.

Sickness absence can be very disruptive to a business, especially a small one but having a clear policy in place and good communications can help to mitigate the problems caused. If you need any specific help around sickness absence in your business, just get in touch and I’ll be able to help.