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Help for small firms

Managing staff absence: A step-by-step guide

Managing staff absence - Long-term illness

Will they come back? 

  • Handling long-term absence is a delicate matter:
    • the illness may be serious, and also involve an operation and recovery time, or could be a mental health problem. These require a sympathetic approach.
    • or you may suspect an illness is being drawn out to delay a return to work.

However, these two scenarios, although contrasting, still mean the absence can be a strain on the business. How you manage them in some areas can be similar. But remember, these situations are poles apart and will require sensitivity to be used in very different ways.

You should:

  • assess if colleagues can manage for a while without a replacement, or whether you need to hire someone on a temporary contract
  • keep in regular contact with the employee about their position, be clear about their sick pay and explain any updates - for example, promotion opportunities or any other important workplace changes
  • consider whether it might be best, in some cases, to simply keep in touch and give them the time they need to get better
  • think whether you need to ask the employee for permission to contact their GP, or whether they would see the company doctor, to assess:
    • when a return to work will be possible
    • will there be a full recovery and is a return to the same work advisable?
    • should it be phased - may be part-time or flexible hours to begin with?
    • whether the employee is disabled - if so, reasonable adjustments must be made so they can return to work
    • whether a return to lighter, less stressful, work would be advisable.

View Acas Advisory booklet - Health, work and wellbeingMental health and Advisory booklet - Stress at work for more on these topics.

For more on managing long-term absence view pages 72-75 of pdf  Discipline and grievances at work: The Acas guide [852kb].

For tips on helping an employee return to work after a long absence view pages 20-21 of the pdf  Advisory booklet - Managing attendance and employee turnover [538kb].

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