Long term sick – keeping in touch

Long term sick – keeping in touch

Having an employee on long term sick and keeping in touch over that period of absence is often something that organisations struggle with. This blog is intended to clarify how long term sick and keeping in touch should be handled.

8 tips to help with keeping in touch during long term sickness absence:


1. Remember that employers can contact staff during their sickness absence


This may seem like an obvious point but there is a common misconception that employers cannot or should not make contact over this period. This is not so. Employers can make contact, but should do so in a way that is sensitive and supportive. Keeping in touch during sickness absence can be extremely positive if done correctly. For example, if there is little or no communication from the organisation people on long term sickness absence are likely to feel that the organisation has forgotten about them, or is simply not interested in how they are. Conversely, effectively keeping in touch during long term sickness absence means that everyone is aware of what is happening and are participating in that process.


2. Ensure that policies and procedures relating to the long term sickness absence are followed


Where there are policies and procedures in place these should be followed as this ensures that such situations are dealt with consistently and fairly.


3. Never forget the purpose of keeping in touch during long term sickness


The purpose of keeping in touch is to find out how the person is and have a dialogue where the person on sickness absence can ask questions or express concerns, and ultimately explore what could make a return to work possible. There is a world of difference between the supportive approach referred to above and simply using the conversation to pressure the person to return to work. This second approach is likely to be counterproductive, cause distress and increase the period of absence rather than lessen it.


4. Consider training on topics such as keeping in touch during long term sickness


Long term sickness absence can be particularly challenging to tackle. After all, the person who is absent is likely to feel distressed and anxious about the situation and what the future holds. In such circumstances, it is important that the situation is handled appropriately. Without such training employers may simply make enquiries around return to work dates, without considering the steps that would make a return to work possible.

At Plotkin & Chandler we offer HR consultancy and training on a range of topics including managing  long term sickness absence, and specifically how to effectively keep in touch over that period. Our training is tailored to the needs of our clients, meaning that those undertaking this task on behalf of their organisation can do so with confidence. If you would prefer advice and guidance to tackle a particular issue, we can provide this support on a consultancy basis.


5. Always be reasonable


This may seem like a vague and unhelpful point to make. After all, what may seem reasonable to one person may not to another. Despite some differences of opinion,  there will be occasions when what is reasonable or unreasonable should be obvious. For example, most people would agree that it would be unreasonable to contact a person on sickness absence every day to ask if there has been an improvement: there is unlikely to be any news and constant requests for updates are likely to cause frustration all round. That is an extreme example, but it illustrates that interventions can potentially do more harm than good.

 Sometimes what is and what is not reasonable will be less clear cut. For example, if the long term absence was due to stress and the person who is on long term sickness absence alleged that the stress was due to the actions of a line manager, would it be reasonable for that line manager to be the person responsible for keeping in touch with the person on sickness absence? The answer to that question depends on a number of factors and the circumstances, and training in this area can help to identify and properly address such issues.

It is also common for keeping in touch calls relating to long term sickness to be challenging. Perhaps voices become raised or maybe there is an outpouring of frustration. Those responsible for keeping in touch, on behalf of their organisation, should remain calm and not forget the purpose of keeping in touch, as referred to earlier.


6. Develop a plan


Planning is important in many aspects of life and managing sickness absence is no different. When done effectively keeping in touch helps all parties to work together to support the shared goal of recovery and ultimately a return to work. There may well be many steps towards that goal but having a plan in place early on should make the process run more smoothly.  Basic examples of planning could be to agree call times in advance so that the person on sickness absence is aware of when to expect a call or, if the date of a relevant appointment is known, arrangements could be made to speak soon after it to discuss next steps etc.


7. Engage with health care professionals


When it comes to long term sickness, there are likely to be questions which neither the person on sickness absence nor their employer will be able to answer. In such circumstances, engaging with health care professionals may well be a positive way forward. For more on the role of occupational health and the assistance that it can provide read our blog Can occupational health overrule GP?  Occupational health services can provide substantial value to an organisation but it is important the issue is properly discussed and keeping in touch throughout the sickness absence provides an opportunity to achieve that.


8.Be aware of the potential legal implications


Some organisations may think that what is said during a conversation with someone on long term sickness absence does not really matter. This is far from the truth. As said above, badly handled discussions with an individual on long term sick leave can undermine when, or even if, the person returns.  If that is not bad enough, poor behaviour from an organisation could prompt the disgruntled person to lodge a claim at the Employment Tribunal. It will then ultimately be for the Employment Tribunal to decide what the outcome should be.

As well as a range of HR services, Plotkin & Chandler also has expertise in employment law litigation, and can advise on all aspects of Defending an Employment Tribunal Claim. If an employee has lodged an Employment Tribunal claim, or you would like to discuss how to prevent matters from escalating, we would be pleased to assist.

Plotkin & Chandler works exclusively in the areas of HR and employment law and assists both employees and employers. Whether you are an organisation in need of HR consultancy and training, you want assistance with Defending an Employment Tribunal Claim, or you are an individual who would like advice on a matter concerning long term absence or you would like to discuss bringing an Employment Tribunal Claim we would be pleased to hear from you on 020 3923 8616 or via email on info@plotkinandchandler.com



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