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Law for Business

Knowhow - guidance - precedents

13 JUL 2015

The cost of sickness absence

Pam Loch

Managing Partner


The cost of sickness absence
'The annual cost of sickness absence had climbed to almost £29 billion for UK organisations, according to new figures from PwC.'

'British workers take more than four times as many sick days off work than some of their global counterparts, the analysis by the professional's services firm showed.'

At an average of 9.1 days per year, UK workers reported double the amount of sickness absence as US staff (4.9 days) and quadruple that of workers in the Asia Pacific region (2.2 days). The average for Western Europe was 7.3 days.

Recent research by PwC research showed that in UK companies, illness and its associated costs accounted for around 90 per cent (£28.8 billion) of the total absence bill (£31.1 billion). Other unexpected absences such as compassionate leave and industrial action made up the remainder. These figures compared to a sickness absence cost of £27.8 billion in 2011, out of an overall absenteeism bill of £32.1 billion.

Failing to understand the nature and length of an illness can lead to a failure to plan absence cover or manage a disability.

Managing or Reducing Absences

Carrying out return to work meetings (RWM) is an essential aspect of managing absence. The properly conducted RWM is proven to be a cost effective management tool to reduce both the number of episodes and the length of time taken off sick. However, managers often feel nervous about getting information from employees, particularly if it involves embarrassing or distressing issues. In those situations the interview could become counterproductive.

A poorly conducted RWM can raise a multitude of issues for the employer, all of which can have a serious impact on the smooth running of the organisation. A failure to understand the nature and length of an illness can lead to a failure to plan absence cover or manage a disability.

These are very real everyday issues for which there are no hard and fast rules, but with the right approach, the situation can be handled in a sympathetic manner and provide practical, cost effective solutions for you.

The Solution - HR Medical Specialists

By managing your sickness in partnership with a HR Medical Specialist you can finally take control of your sickness management in the secure knowledge that the process is being managed in an appropriate and cost effective manner. Our HR Medical Specialists can help you ensure that you have:

  • accurate records of absenteeism
  • contact with your employee maintained
  • cost effective workplace adjustments investigated and even implemented
  • alternative cost effective solutions or treatments sought for to achieve an earlier return to work
  • return to work plans devised, agreed, implemented and reviewed
Our HR Medical Specialists are all HR Consultants with a medical background and specialist knowledge in physiotherapy, mental health, occupational health or social work.
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Return to work meetings

Central to managing staff is an open discussion with the employee to determine the cause of their absence. This discussion can also help identify any hidden underlying causes such as bullying, stress (work related or not), it can help establish if the illness/injury is work related. Early identification of these issues allows early interventions which facilitates an earlier return to work - reducing costs for you.

Using an HR Medical Specialist is very effective in the management of employees who have multiple, short duration sickness absences. The HR Medical Specialist can put sickness into context with previous absences, identify links and then in partnership with you offer cost effective solutions to the problem from either a medical point of view or a HR perspective.

This can be supported with comprehensive reports to you which can act as evidence if needs be going forward.

Repetitive and/or Long Term Sickness Management

The management of repetitive or long term sickness can become particularly complex and if handled badly result in significant financial losses. Long term illness often involves problems that managers find difficult and distressing to manage. For example some people find it difficult to discuss certain conditions such as cancer.

Specific employees may need help and support to stay at work or return to work, these may include those employees:

  • who became ill or injured and whose job performance could be affected if their condition gets worse;
  • already in poor health, or experiencing stress, and whose condition might be made worse unless the system of working is changed;
  • whose condition already affects their job performance and may begin to affect their attendance;
  • whose condition has resulted in long term absence who need help to return; or
  • who become disabled as defined by the Equality Act 2010
Our aim is to help you identify the root causes for absence, plan and implement cost effective measures to assist employees back into the workplace as soon as possible,r reducing the cost of sickness to your business.

The initial contact will usually be by telephone contact with one of our HR Medical Specialists who will use their specialist medical knowledge to try and identify the specific reason for the absence, and develop a way forward to facilitate the employee's early return to work in a safe and non-threatening manner.

How our HR Medical Specialists Can Help

  • carry out return to work meetings
  • help you avoid or manage long term absences more effectively
  • keep a note of contacts made, provide written reports with regards to measures that may facilitate a return to work or reduce episodes of abseentism
  • identify issues which may be affecting performance or attendance
  • give advice on medication that can have side effects on things like physical stamina, mood, driving, machinery operation and safety critical tasks
  • identify any early interventions that may help the employee regain their fitness
  • be flexible, treat each case individually, but on a fair and consistent basis
  • give the employee the opportunity to discuss their health or other concerns
  • take time to get to know your employees and the things that affect their health

Pam Loch, Managing Director of niche employment law practice Loch Associates Employment Lawyers, and Managing Director of HR Advise Me Limited.