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Employment Law - Sickness Absence and those cold winter months

Author: Joan Finch, J Finch & Associates Published: 24th November 2015 13:40

Woman at home unwell sneezing 

Employment Law can be a challenging minefield at the best of times without the challenges of those cold, dark winter months, which no doubt affects the health and wellbeing of employees.   Those autumn coughs and colds are slowly beginning to appear which without doubt will affect staff attendance, without employees who have on-going conditions which, unfortunately, seasonal changes can make worse.

So in this article we are going to look at what information / support there is for employers, and also what good practises employers can put in place to manage their employee’s absence.

Let’s start with the Fit Note

The Fit Note was introduced in April 2010, with its key objective to support employees to return to work early.  Back at the time of introduction, concerns were raised as to how GP’s would facilitate the “may be fit for work” section, as primarily they were not trained in being occupational health practitioners, who have always been seen as the expert in supporting employees back to work, especially with complex health conditions.

Some difficulties for GP’s have been, for example, reluctance to damage their on-going relationship with their patient.  It could be difficult to say to an employee ‘come on, you need to get on with it and get back to work’ which sometimes, albeit it a couple of hours to start with, can have a very positive impact on employees recovery and attitude to returning back to the workplace.

It has been reported recently that more GP’s are using the “may be fit for work” option, so signs are encouraging.  In addition, the larger employers would have the ability to instruct occupational health practitioners to provide advice and guidance as to how absent employees can be supported in returning to the workplace, whilst also giving specific recommendations on, for example, phased return to work and reasonable adjustments - but for smaller employers this is not always possible.

What is the Fit for Work Service?

The Fit for Work Service is a new national service which is voluntary and helps support employees who have been on long term absence stay in, and return to work.  This service will be more valuable to SME’s who have limited resources to support employees on long term sickness absence.  The key highlights are as follows:

  • The service is voluntary
  • The employee has to consent to being referred
  • The referral is for a 45 minutes telephone assessment with an appropriately qualified health professional
  • To meet the qualifying criteria an employee must be absent due to sickness for 4 weeks or more and have a realistic outlook for returning to working.

You can find more detailed information on www.gov.uk including who can be referred, and how to refer them to the service.

What good practises can employers put in place?

For employers to manage sickness absence fairly and consistently, they need to ensure they have some clear practises in place, of which employees are fully aware and which are adhered to by all.   Some key steps an employer can take are:

  • Have an Absence policy which is adhered to fairly and consistently
  • Clear absence reporting procedures
  • Monitor absence levels and patterns
  • If employees are absent, hold a return to work interview on their return
  • If you know an employee struggles more in the winter months, consider any reasonable adjustment which may assist them.

If you employ staff, it is important that you have all the necessary contracts and policies in place to support and maintain the employment relationship.  It is equally important to have the policies in place to support your business growth or when things are not going quite as they should.  If you are in the process of dealing with disputes in the workplace or are concerned that your business does not have all the necessary contracts of employment and policies in place; or wish to ensure that your company is fully compliant and up to date when dealing with employee disputes and all other employment matters, then please refer to our website and access services available to support your business.   

You can contact us by phone on 0330 2230158, by email on enquiries@JFinch.co.uk or visit us at J Finch Associates website

Article by Joan Finch of J Finch & Associates Ltd

Thanks to Joan our AboutMyArea/EN9 editorial contributor for this informative article on sickness absence. Check out Employment Law section in the AboutMyArea Business Zone to read more of her articles.

Joan is an award winning, highly experienced, commercial, self-motivated HR professional who has operated within the sectors of Retail, Hospitality and Catering, specialising in Employees Relations. Joan is now the proud owner and creator of J Finch & Associates Ltd.  Joan's career spans over 10 years, and has broad experience within Human Resources, with initially being a HR generalist covering all aspect of HR from Recruitment, learning and development, training, Employee Relations, redundancy, restructures and TUPE. Since 2008 she has specialised in Employee Relations applying a commercial and practical approach to all ER related issues. 


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