Employers and employees alike understand that the occasional
absence from work due to sickness is unavoidable. Recovering from
an operation or an unfortunate collision with the latest
'super-bug' causes absence to be a necessity.
But what about where the condition is not entirely debilitating
and contagious, and may have almost resolved: does a return to work
actually hinder an individual from making a full recovery?
Professor Sir Mansel Aylward, director of Cardiff University's
Centre for Psychosocial and Disability Research School of Medicine,
says categorically not.
In the UK it is estimated about 172 million working days are
lost to sickness every year, which is estimated to cost the economy
around £13 billion. Speaking at a conference of American
health experts in Massachusetts, Sir Mansel said that
"unfortunately many people think you must be off work to
recover from illness – our challenge is therefore to
uproot these misconceptions".
A survey carried out by Cardiff University found that negative
influences such as fearing the worst, questioning one's ability
to succeed and life factors which limited independence, were ranked
highest by 38% of people asked about returning to work after sick
leave. A further 32% of people cited problems in the workplace, and
interestingly just 7% considered the pain or symptoms of pain as
bearing a negative influence on their return to work.
However, despite Sir Mansel's conclusions that employees are
staying away from the office for reasons other than the reason for
which they were absent, and that contrary to popular belief, being
at work is good for happiness and health, many employers do not
have sickness absence policies for handling ill-health or to enable
an early and sustained return to work.
Jersey employment law requires that a contract of employment
contains any information concerning 'incapacity for work due to
sickness or injury, including any provision for sick pay'.
While specific legal advice should be sought to ensure this
requirement is complied with fully and an appropriate and effective
absence management policy is incorporated, the following
suggestions are a good place to start:
Entitlement – ensure details of contractual sick pay
terms and requirements (such as notification and the production of
medical certificates) are clearly stated.
Record absence – a key element in managing absence
effectively is accurate measurement and monitoring. The
'Bradford Factor' is a commonly used calculation in
relation to monitoring absence, particularly those which are short
Contact – making contact with the employee will allow
you to understand their predicament and also reassure them that
they are of importance.
Be flexible – a simple change in the workplace may
encourage an employee to return to work.
Utilise professional advice – if you have the benefit
of an occupational health professional, make use of it.
Discuss a return to work – keep the idea of returning
to work fresh in the employee's mind and organise an interview
if necessary. If this discussion is had too late, the employee may
lose confidence and encounter difficulty in returning to work.
Employers should be wary of the impact of the Data Protection
(Jersey) Law 2005. If details about an employee's absence is
recorded and stored, this is 'sensitive personal data' and
the employee should know what information is being recorded and
why. While the employer can put in place a comprehensive absence
management policy, the employee is ultimately responsible for their
own general health and for seeking to minimise unnecessary absence
from work due to ill-health. Perhaps the well documented adverse
financial impact of absent employees will motivate the former, and
Sir Mansel's shocking suggestion that being unemployed for a
period of six months poses the health risk equivalent of smoking 20
cigarettes a day will resonate with the latter.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general
guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought
about your specific circumstances.
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