Managing long term illness at work

Managing long term illness at work

No one likes to be ill. It can be a tremendous inconvenience to the plans and future of the patient, but it can also affect those around them, not least their colleagues and their managers.

If you are in a position where an employee has gone off ill and it seems that they will be away from their post for some time, it can be very stressful: you do not want to be unsympathetic, but at the same time, you have a business to run. Here is how you can cope with the situation.

When it first becomes clear that there is going to be an ongoing problem, perhaps the employee has a condition requiring lengthy and tiring treatments, comes in with an open sick note, or indicates that once the limit on the current sick note runs out they will be enquiring about getting another, make sure you sit with the employee and discuss all the options.

In the event of an accident or situation where the employee is unconscious or incapable of discussing their situation, this will have to be handled differently on a standalone basis. However, in every instance, your first sentences, whether to the employee or their representative, should be about their health and wishing them well!

Explain the business HR policy, especially if it differentiates widely from statutory sick pay requirements, and let them know how many weeks or months they will receive statutory sick pay, when it will change to half-pay and when the employment can be considered to have ended. Ensure they understand what you are telling them.

Next, put a loose timeframe for their potential return in place. This can be something as informal as setting a meeting for three months' time when you will both see how things are going. This will let you know that you need to either divide the employee's work between his or her colleagues or arrange a temporary replacement for at least that long and perhaps continue on a month-by-month basis until your employee is fit to return.

Once recovery has begun, it may be that the employee needs to switch to lighter duties, change to a different department, or even be allowed to work from home occasionally if that is feasible. Even if they are expected to make a full recovery in time, a phased return will probably be best for everyone concerned, so they can gradually get back into the swing of things, and you and your workforce can acclimatise to any permanent changes if any.