5 Key Tips for Dealing with Staff who Keep Taking Days Off Sick

Sickness absenceEvery organisation has them.

Members of staff who frequently claim they are sick and can’t come to work; this is often on an intermittent basis involving one or two days at a time which is impossible to plan for. On examination, there is a frequently a pattern to this absence which makes it even more exasperating.

For example on a Monday following their weekend, or immediately after a holiday. Even if there is no obvious pattern, there are staff who frequently take days off sick, and their colleagues are expected to cover for them with all the stresses and strains that entails. In large organisations, this is difficult enough, but in smaller companies, these episodes of sickness can seriously threaten the integrity of the business. So what can you do about this?

Here are the 5 key tips to sort this out:

  1. Ensure you have good, accurate and up-to-date information on the sickness record of the individual in question. You should plot their sick time on a calendar or spreadsheet where any patterns will stand out. Then when you come to discuss this with them, there is no ambiguity about the problem.
  2. Make sure your company has a policy on dealing with sickness absence which has clear ‘trigger’ points. That is when an individual has a certain number of days off within a certain period, it triggers management action. This usually amounts to the requirement to convene a formal meeting to discuss the individual’s sickness record, and to warn them about the consequences of continued short-term absences. There is an example policy here. It is also a good idea to insist that staff with above a certain number of periods of sickness absence produce a medical certificate from their GP every time they are absent.
  3. After every period of sickness, a return-to-work meeting should be held with the individual on the first day back. This confirms to them that management are aware of their sick time, and allows the opportunity to discuss any health problems they may have. Also ensure that the issues discussed, and what is expected of the individual is written down in a letter to the individual, and that this is properly filed on their personnel file.
  4. Ensure all managers and supervisors are trained to apply the policy consistently. Once staff realise that the company means business on these sorts of intermittent periods of sickness absences, the number of absences tends to decrease significantly.
  5. Individuals who fail to improve their sickness absence record, following appropriate warnings, can be dismissed on the basis of capability – that is they are not able to fulfill their contract of employment because of their sickness absences. Take care that you have followed your procedure carefully, and that you have not discriminated against anyone on the basis of a disability (or indeed any other reason).this demonstrates that you take sickness absence very seriously, and shows staff who have had to bear the increased workload for sick colleagues that you have taken positive action to sort this out.

Often managers in small businesses worry that they cannot take action against individuals who demonstrate frequent intermittent sickness periods. This is not the case. Staff who deliberately take time off claiming to be sick when they really are not, put their colleagues under pressure to cover their duties, and ultimately threaten the success of the company and the livelihood  of all concerned. Application of a suitable sickeness absence policy, clear information on the pattern of absences, and consistent application by managers and supervisors will go a very long way to control and hopefully eradicate this sort of behaviour.


(Article reviewed February 2018)

2 comments to 5 Key Tips for Dealing with Staff who Keep Taking Days Off Sick

  • lesley young

    Any tips on how to handle staff who consistently coughing in a small office, open plan, in close proximity who won’t take harmless over the counter medicine to combat the problem. Instead leaving it so it persists for several weeks. It is very distracting and annoying to other staff. Appreciate receiving an example of a sickness policy I could introduce.

    • Hi

      Yes this is a difficult one! Often a similar situation arises if an employee has personal hygiene problems and it can be difficult and embarrassing to address. Generally the tried and tested approach would be:

      1. Try to get a work colleague who the individual knows well to have a friendly word with them – usually along the line of “noticed you have a bad cough can I help any as it is becoming a bit disruptive in the office”

      2. If that doesn’t work or no-one will volunteer to speak to them, then the individual’s immediate supervisor should arrange to meet them informally (and privately) to say much the same as above and look for ways to help them find a solution. Maybe further informal follow up would be required to ensure improvement is made and continues.

      3. If that doesn’t produce the required improvement, then it is necessary to move to a more formal approach whereby the employee would receive a letter from the company outlining the problem and the effect this is having on her colleagues etc., she would be invited to a formal meeting with a senior manager, where the issue would be discussed and an action plan to try to sort it out developed. It would need to be made clear that if the situation did not improve this could impact on her future employment with the company.

      4. If after a formal meeting and ongoing monitoring and support, the situation failed to improve, then a final capability hearing would be convened to further consider the situation. However if it was clear that nothing would be likely to change then termination would be the most likely outcome.

      In my experience though, these situations normally get sorted out informally once the employee better understands the impact they are having on their colleagues.

      You will find a couple of template sickness policies on our website here

      I hope this is helpful and good luck with sorting it out!