Most employers know that they have duties with regard to the health of the people working for them, and how they should deal with an employee who becomes sick or disabled.
Sometimes these duties are enshrined in statute (such as the 2010 Equality Act) and others have developed over the years as a result of cases that have come before the courts (such as the duty of care).
Alongside these legal requirements, however, are other imperatives relating to health, for example:
- Managing the direct and indirect costs of sickness absence
- The effect on the business of a key person being unable to perform in their role
- The challenge of dealing with sensitive issues such as an employee who has developed a mental health problem
- The need to maintain operational effectiveness whilst still treating employees who can no longer work fairly, consistently, compassionately and in a manner that does not result in litigation.
- Despite the fact that the legal obligations have been around for a long time, and that ‘managing absence’ is hardly a new subject, employers sometimes find it difficult to get to grips with employee health issues, perhaps even finding themselves in court having to justify their actions.
At the root of these problems lie a number of misunderstandings, for example:
- That a sickness absence policy can cover every eventuality – in fact, it is a mistake to conflate sickness with disability. A person can be sick but not disabled and, crucially, disabled but not sick
- That disabilities are usually visible, or obvious, and will usually result in absence
- That line managers will always do their best to get absent employees back to work
- That providing training for managers will inevitably improve attendance and reduce risk
- That insurance can provide all the answers.
These misunderstandings can have serious consequences – financial, legal and reputational.