Sick as a …. ?

March 15, 2018

Sickness absence has been estimated to cost the UK economy £18 billion a year, and causes major disruption to a busy vet practice. Much absence is genuine and unavoidable, but we’d like to share a few of the best excuses for veterinary practice employees being unable to come to work…

  • My cat’s ill
  • The dog has swallowed my car keys
  • I’ve got salt poisoning
  • I get too upset having to see the poorly animals

You can’t eliminate absence, but there are a few simple steps you can take to manage it:

  1. Have a clear policy on how you expect employees to notify you if they can’t come to work – it’s usually best to insist they telephone in person,  and to avoid allowing text messages.
  2. Monitor absence – both total amount and any patterns, such as frequent Mondays or Fridays. Consider using something like the Bradford Factor, which weights frequent, short-term absences. (see our previous article for more details on monitoring, including the Bradford Factor
  3. Have a return to work interview after every period of absence. This alone will frequently lead to reduced absence, but can also help employees, giving them an opportunity to discuss any problems they’re facing.
  4. Get everyone to self-certify for absences of less than seven days that don’t need a Fit Note – this can be part of the return to work interview.
  5. Look at your company sick pay (CSP) policy – are you encouraging a culture where people feel entitled to a number of sick days? Too often we hear of employees asking the practice manager “how many sick days do I have left this year?” Be careful though – you can’t just remove existing CSP without consultation – best to get legal advice first.
  6. Intervening early can benefit both parties – consider getting medical or occupational health reports.
  7. Try to maintain regular contact during longer periods of absence, unless this might cause unnecessary distress.
  8. Always be aware of the possibility of disability, and remember that this can include mental health problems. Under the Equality Act 2010, certain conditions, such as cancer, HIV and multiple sclerosis, are classed as disability from the point of diagnosis, even if there is no current impairment.
  9. If someone has a disability, you may need to make a reasonable adjustment to enable them to continue to work for you. This doesn’t mean that you can’t manage their absence, but you do need to proceed carefully and have a very good paper trail.
  10. If in doubt, seek legal advice, particularly if disability may be a factor.