How to maintain contact with absent employees
It is the responsibility of both the manager and individual employee to ensure contact is maintained during a period of sickness absence.
You can be clear and confident about the benefits of maintaining contact – it can help to reduce the natural anxieties that the employee may have about being absent or returning to work, and provide up to date information on the individual’s condition/circumstances, enabling you to plan work during the absence and support the individual’s subsequent return to work.
For longer term periods of absence, it is a good idea to agree with an employee the method of contact and frequency; whether telephone, email or in person, or a mix, and weekly or fortnightly etc.
Please note: the below checklists points are not exhaustive (and provided for guidance purposes only as not all maybe relevant/appropriate to each case).
Before you make contact with the employee:
Even a familiar working relationship may feel a little strained after a period of absence, particularly for the individual who may feel a little isolated from the workplace, even after a fairly short spell away. A few tips:
- Make sure that you are familiar with any information already provided by the individual, including the reason for the absence and the date that it began. Where possible check if any specific arrangements for contact have been previously agreed with the employee regarding this period of absence.
- Make a note in advance of any specific issues that you need to cover, and establish whether the employee is coming to the end of their full or half pay sick pay provision so that this can be discussed during the contact and confirmed in writing afterwards.
- If the contact is via a meeting at the University, ensure that a suitable meeting place is available. Consider privacy and accessibility.
- If meeting the staff member at their home, it is sensible to make another colleague aware of your plans, in case of any unforeseen issues or delays.
During contact with the absent employee:
- Do convey good wishes from colleagues and think about whether it is appropriate to provide a brief update on key events/changes that have happened in the department or the wider University.
- If you are meeting face-to-face, explain that you may need to make brief notes and say why (i.e. to assist your ability to offer support to them during their absence, and to record any follow up actions needed).
- Check whether the individual believes that the sickness absence is disability or work-related. If it is, then you may need to take appropriate measures.
- Where you believe a referral to Workplace Health & Wellbeing is needed, explain why and obtain the individuals consent to organise this.
- Establish whether the employee has received an indication from their physician (e.g. GP/Consultant Specialists) about when they may be able to return to work.
- Where a referral to Workplace Health & Wellbeing has already been undertaken, discuss any recommendations made by the occupational health adviser/physician.
- Check if any support is required to facilitate an effective return to work. Make the employee aware of additional sources of advice/support as appropriate e.g. staff counselling and the staff helpline.
- Where the employee has been away for a longer period, establish whether a phased return to work will be needed so that you can begin to consider the options.
- Discuss sick pay entitlement – whether the employee is approaching a reduction to half-pay or null pay.
- Establish whether the individual would like you to provide an update/convey a message to their team colleagues, and agree what this will be, to ensure that the employee’s confidentiality is maintained.
- Agree when the next contact will be made to review/discuss the situation.
- Deal with any action points that were raised during the discussion and let the individual know that you have done so.
- File any notes made, (providing a copy to the employee if this is what you agreed), and seek support/advice from Workplace Health & Wellbeing or Human Resources, as appropriate.
A note on relationship difficulties....
Where relationship difficulties are a factor in the sickness absence, consider methods of resolution such as workplace mediation, support for the individual via the harassment support network (where for example bullying is alleged) and seek advice from colleagues in HR.
Where there are relationship difficulties between the you (as manager) and the absent employee, you may wish to consider whether the contact during sickness absence is with another manager rather than you, allowing you time to consider with an HR colleague a means to resolve the issues and facilitate the return to work.