October 5th, 2016
Staff absence is a problem for businesses of all sizes, but can be especially hard for a small company to cope with, because just one or two staff members represent a larger proportion of the workforce. As leading providers of serviced office space in areas of the UK including Exeter, Camberley and Southampton, Basepoint takes a close interest in the whole range of issues affecting small businesses, including staff absence.
It is important for small businesses to have policies in place which can help them to cope if a key member of staff is off sick, whether short or long-term, or if staff are away for other reasons such as parental leave.
Overall, absence figures are lower for SMEs than for larger companies, with one research study showing that “micro-businesses” with fewer than 10 employees tend to have staff off sick for 5.3 days a year, compared to 6.8 days for those with between 100 and 250. However, it is still a good idea for businesses of all sizes to encourage staff wellbeing and create a healthy workplace to help keep sickness to a minimum.
Various policies need to be in place to handle this issue, and Acas provides a useful guide which can help small businesses to put these in place. As a starting-point, staff need to know who they need to inform if they are not going to be in. Many employers have a rule that staff should call them within an hour of the time when they would normally start work.
It is also helpful to set down the rules over when staff can self-certify their absence – usually for an illness lasting for up to seven days – and when they need a ‘Fit note’ from the doctor, normally after an absence which is longer than this.
Of course, there could also be other reasons for absence, such as a child being ill and a parent having to take leave to look after them, a domestic emergency, a car breaking down or other transport problems. Whatever the reason, it is important that as the small business owner or the individual’s line manager you are informed right away, so that you have some idea how long the staff member will be away for and what cover you will need to arrange.
In some small businesses, time pressure can mean that just one person knows how to carry out various key tasks. Although it can be hard to build training time into the working day, it is important for more than a single individual to know each area of the business. This means that if a team member is away unexpectedly their work can be covered.
Another issue connected with short-term absence is the whole question of taking “sickies”, or repeated absences where you suspect the person may not really be ill at all. It is difficult to know how to handle this and it needs to be done with sensitivity.
It is a good idea to have a consistent absence control policy in case of any disciplinary issues arising. Keeping individual attendance records can help to pinpoint any patterns of absence. You should let the individual know at what point you may take disciplinary action and it is also helpful to hold return-to-work interviews where you discuss the reasons why they were away.
Long Term Absence
There can be different causes for a staff member being off work for a long period. One reason may be a serious illness or health condition. When an employee is having a major operation or has other long-term health problems, there is difficult balance to strike. You will need to keep in touch with them, but without making them feel they are being put under pressure to return before they are ready.
In some cases, it could be helpful to ask the employee whether you can talk to their doctor about when they are likely to be able to come back to work and whether a return should be phased in. If a time off sick results in an employee being disabled, it is important to ensure that you have the right policies in place to help them return to work and that there is no risk of discrimination.
With any long-term absence, you will need to decide whether to take someone on to cover the employee’s role. This may often be done with parental leave where you know roughly how long they will be away for. An alternative is to look at whether existing colleagues can provide cover, but this can sometimes cause a lot of stress and even lead to someone else being off ill as a result, worsening the short-staffing issue.
In dealing with both short and long-term absence, it is essential for business owners to know the legal position and ensure they are not guilty of discrimination or any errors in carrying out the correct processes. If you are unsure where you stand, you can get advice from organisations such as CIPD and Acas.
Companies renting serviced office space in Basepoint business centres in various areas of the UK can also get guidance on all kinds of issues affecting SMEs, including dealing with staff absence, through MiBase. This is our free service offering access to experienced business mentors as well as unlimited information and fact sheets.
We also regularly organise networking events at our fully serviced offices, where small business owners based in the building as well as those choosing virtual offices for rent can meet one another and exchange ideas.
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