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Reduce employee long term sickness absence (sickness absenteeism)

Newcastle & Edinburgh Occupational Health Provider

Occupational Health Absence Management

Do you have one or more employees who are off work on long term sick leave? Does your organisation have high levels of sickness absenteeism?

In this article we look at what happens in businesses and organisations who have colleagues off work on long term sick leave and what can be done to support these employees. This is in terms of reducing their recovery period and helping to bring the absence to a successful conclusion with the employee returning to work. This may be because they have fully recovered or just as often, still have some symptoms of their illness but enough recovery to resume work, with adjustments if need be. Here we share our years of experience with Management and HR Departments to help successfully manage longer term or recurrent employee absence. This is for the benefit of the health and wellbeing of the employee with long term sickness absence often having a secondary impact on their mental health and also for the company or organisation in terms of returning to full staffing levels. We aim to reduce the crippling burden of ill health absenteeism on a company, which can in turn have a severe impact on the productivity and financial stability of an organisation.

Occupational health is defined as “the branch of medicine dealing with the prevention and treatment of job-related injuries and illnesses”. Occupational health organisations provide advice and guidance on proactively managing health in relation to work, on behalf of client companies or organisations for their employees. Our role is to provide healthcare support to employers, delivered by Doctors, Nurses and Technician specialising in occupational medicine, with years of expertise, enabling employers to look after the health and wellbeing of their workforce. As such we are in direct contact with employees and support them during and beyond their illness providing care and advice on behalf of the employer and advice to management in helpful reports.

An employee may be referred to occupational health because their Manager or HR Department deem their absence necessary to be reviewed by trained healthcare professionals in order to determine the nature and cause of their workplace absence. This could be due to the frequency, nature and pattern of the workplace absence or questions around the capability of the employee to return and what help they might need to do so. At this stage, the employer will be trying to establish if there are any work factors affecting the health of the employee at work or if the absence(s) are perhaps due to an underlying health condition which could be helped or improved with assessment and advice. An absent employee may have gone to their GP as a result of the illness causing their absence, however, it is good practice for the employer to both support and also risk assess the employee when off sick. This is when an employer benefits from instructing an occupational health assessment from an occupational health provider, which provides additional help and advice to the employee’s own GP who, due the  demands of NHS service provision, rarely has the time or expertise to fully comment or advise on work, adjustments or a company’s legal obligations.

The OH assessment allows the employer to fulfil their legal obligations in order to ensure that they are doing everything they can in order to care for the health and well-being of the employee during their absence and into their recovery and resumption of work period. Following this assessment, the Manager or HR Department can be provided with an occupational health report, with the consent of the employee, which gives a detailed overview of the employee’s condition and an outlines their recovery plan, as well as assessing whether or not their absence is caused or influenced by something directly related to their job role. As an employer or HR Department, it is important to keep in touch with any colleagues off work on long term sick leave, prior to referring the colleague to occupational health. This achieves important goals, putting their minds at ease as to why they are being referred and to reinforce the fact that we are here as occupational health providers to support the colleague in their recovery.

Duration and types of employee absence

Employee absence falls into two categories, either short term or long term absence, as explained below:

Short term employee absence is often both sporadic and unplanned with colleagues phoning in sick on any given day. Workers off work on short term sickness leave are self-determining that they are unfit for work, eg due to a sickness bug and therefore are unfit to attend work on that particular day.

Long term employee absence may last more than 1-2 weeks or sometimes many months and are often given a diagnosis from a healthcare professional and not themselves in the form of a self-diagnosis, meaning they must first see their GP. They will require a sick note from their Doctor, giving a reason for their absence and outlining the diagnosis and predicated length of absence. This will then often result in a Manager or HR Department requiring a temporary replacement for the absent employee, to ensure the productivity and stability of the organisation continues.

Advice provided by occupational health professionals to HR Departments and Management

When the employee is on either a long term or frequent short term sickness leave a referral to occupational health becomes important for any HR Department or Management. This is so that the employer comply with the duty to seek reasonable medical advice and try to establish all of the facts of the illness by instructing a trained occupational healthcare professional who will conduct either a face to face or teleconsultation with the employee. The occupational health professional will be able to help reduce the short-term and long-term levels of absence within a company or organisation by creating individual plans for each employee who is off sick to support their recovery back to work, possibly with amended duties or hours for a supported period of time upon resumption to work. We can also give advice to the employee about ways they manage their health condition optimally to minimise the absence duration. We may advise a referral onto additional services, such as mental health support counselling or physiotherapy. An occupational health assessment will also provide independent advice and guidance for Management or HR Departments in order to put into place a rehabilitation plan for the employee or reasonable changes to the job role on medical guidance which could require adaptations to an employee’s working time, tasks and duties at work which could be for a long term or short term basis. This guidance could also include advice on the Equality Act 2010, in relation to colleagues disabled as a result of their illnesses.

This will allow for reductions in the levels of employee absence enabling a more productive workplace and improving stability in an organisation which in turn can have a significant beneficial impact on financial performance. This can also positively affect morale within a workplace, as high levels of sickness leave can impact on the workload and well-being of other colleagues who remain at work. Professional and independent advice by occupational health providers can also support Managers, HR Departments in ensuring health and safety legislation is adhered to as well as correctly managing any potential future litigation risks.

Our comprehensive assessment is designed to allow the Management or HR Department to manage employee absence in a legally sound way, with helping the employee to a swift recovery at the core of the service. Each assessment will cover a diagnosis, severity and prognosis of the condition, with a determination of when, if ever, will the employee be well enough to return to their normal duties.

To make absence management referrals to OH3 for an employee the HR manager simply makes contact with us by phone or email, and completes a referral form. We will often be able to provide an appointment within seven working days with the finished assessment report available for download by the employer on our portal within 2-3 working days, providing the employee requests their copy at the same time as the employer and not beforehand. If they do, they are usually given 48hrs to view their report first and then the report is sent to the employer unless they have any concerns.

Referring managers can give us a call on 0191 653 1001 or email at to begin the referral process today.

OH3 is a SEQOHS approved occupational health provider which is the quality accreditation from the Faculty of Occupational Medicine. You can read more on this by clicking here to see our occupational health clinical governance page, or alternatively follow the link here to see further details regarding our occupational health absence management services during the current coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.