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Keeping in touch during sickness absence

Updated: Feb 16

Our rradarstation advisers take dozens of calls each day from employers who are concerned about HR issues. One of the most common subjects is sickness absence which, given its close connection to disability, can create a minefield of potential discrimination issues.

We listened in on one particular call, which highlights a question we often receive from employers.

Q. What should we do if an employee is refusing to keep in touch with us during their sickness absence?

A. All employees should follow the employer’s absence reporting procedures and ensure they submit GP Fit Notes to cover the period of absence.

After that, any additional contact the employer has with the employee will depend on the facts of the case.

If an employee is suffering with - or recovering from - a serious condition, and you know they are going to be absent from work for a long time, there won’t necessarily be a need to contact them every week for an update. Again, it will depend on the facts of the case.

In such circumstances, it’s useful to ask the employee how much communication they want from the employer.

It might be that they’d appreciate regular contact, so you can update them about happenings at work and to check on their wellbeing.

It might be that they would prefer to be left alone to concentrate on their recovery and recuperation. In such cases, the employer should still attempt to speak to them at least once a month to catch up with them and to enquire about their welfare.

If the diagnosis is less serious, it’s reasonable to expect the employee to keep their employer updated on their absence.

The employer needs to know how long they think they will be off for, as you may have to organise cover or manage their workload during their absence.

Formal welfare meetings can be used to review the employee’s absence. Again, the employer would check on their welfare and establish the likelihood of a return to work. The employer should also ask whether there is anything they could do - for example, are there any adjustments that could be made to help them to return?

Certainly, where an employee has had sickness absence of at least 4 weeks or more, because employees/employers are not medically trained, rradar would always advise that you seek to obtain a medical report from Occupational Health or the employee’s GP to better assess the likelihood of a return to work and/or any adjustments that could be made to help them to return.

If an employee is persistently refusing to keep in touch, you should send them a copy of your absence policy/procedure to remind them of their obligation to communicate with you about their absence.

Although this advice is comprehensive and outlines how to handle this particular situation, circumstances alter cases and we always advise that employers should seek legal advice if they find themselves in a situation like this.


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