What if My Absent Employee Refuses Contact?
Make sure all your workers and subcontractors understand their responsibility to keep you informed about when and why they are absent from work and likely to return. Remind them of their responsibilities of calling you. Start this by having a policy statement on what is expected of them. Contact when off sick is key to sensible and adequate work plans.
Does everyone understand the provisions for sick pay and notifications to you as the employer? Some workers won’t notify you of the illness or keep in contact because of sensitive issues. They may feel embarrassed about describing their condition, or the illnesses linked to difficult work situations or working relationships.
You can help by:
- Telling your employee who they can talk to in confidence, such as an occupational health service if you have one or HR. But in all cases reassure them of your reasons for asking the questions
- Providing different means of communication if there are problems, e.g., no telephone, language difficulties, diseases linked to hearing or speaking. In these case make the first contact in writing offering help and suggestions on how to communicate in future, such as providing an interpreter or talking to a nominated representative
Involve absent employees in planning their return to work by:
- Discussing adjustments for those disabled or not yet fully fit with the worker
- Control work risks more closely for the individual in the short-term
- Control work responsibilities and processes
- Regularly review the work situation on return to work
Managers must intervene when:
- A worker’s performance suffers because of ill health
- Work has caused the illness or absence – consider changing the work or improving controls, or the same will happen again
- Absence levels increase
- Are already in long-term absence and need help to return
- Become disabled due to accident, injury or disease
Fit notes are linked to the employers’ duties to pay statutory sick pay, so recording absence when someone is on reduced hours or rehabilitation programmes could be more complex. Also, the options for adjusted working can mean more work for you as a manager, to arrange modified work and supervision of those working under the directions of the fit note.
There may also be difficulties with:
- Counting days off sick and entitlement to holiday pay
- Understanding health problems and how they affect people differently
- Workers wanting to continue in their modified duties indefinitely
- GPs suggesting on the fit note things that may be unreasonable, therefore raising expectations for the employee
- Finding a suitable job
Last Resort for Contact when off Sick
Despite good intentions – still, some workers refuse to contact work, believing their fit note is good enough. It’s especially true in cases of work-related stress. Here it is important to continue to try to encourage communication. The last resort is to write to the employee setting out your requirements and any penalties for failing to keep in contact, such as stopping sick pay. Managers need to know when workers are coming back to work so that arrangements are made for absence and eventual return, particularly if workplace adjustments are required. Keeping in contact when off sick is a key component of this.