Short term sickness and the issue of pay

Are your employees avoiding taking sick leave due to the financial penalties?

David Quinn: BrightHR Social Media Manager

It’s a fact of life that employees will fall ill from time to time. The majority of these illnesses will be short-term in nature and employers can expect staff to return to work after a day or two of recovery time. But when it comes to short-term sick leave there could be a potential issue that can have a huge effect on your business – the issue of sick pay.

In this blog, we take a look at these issues, how they can affect your business and what you can be doing to potentially limit the negative results.

Paying staff for sickness

In Ireland, employers have no legal obligation to pay employees while they're off sick. Instead, it’s up to you as the employer to decide whether or not to pay staff for sickness-related absences.

It’s best to outline your approach from the start in a written policy that confirms whether or not an employee will be paid while they're absent due to illness. Many employers operate their own discretionary sick pay policy.

Sick pay policies generally require employees to provide a medical certificate after a certain number of days’ absence. For example, some employers demand a medical certificate after three consecutive days off.

But not all businesses are in a position to pay employees who are absent through illness and if that sounds like your business, you could face the following HR headaches.

Issues you need to be aware of

  • Productivity

When workers come into work feeling unwell they are not going to be as productive as when they were 100%. In fact, a report by the Work Foundation found that “presenteeism, or sickness presence, could account for as much if not more of a loss in productivity than sickness absence”.

  • Spreading sickness

Presenteeism doesn’t just affect the individual member of staff that has come in feeling unwell, it could also affect your entire workforce as the chances of spreading the illness now increases. This may escalate the situation and instead of having one member of staff off ill due to sickness you may now find you have a number of staff off ill at the same time, with the same symptoms.

  • Employee burnout

No matter if staff take holidays as sick leave or come in ill, there is an increased risk of employee burnout.

Anyone who has been off ill will know that it’s not a relaxing break and by using annual leave for sick days, it means employees now have less time off to recharge the batteries elsewhere in the year. This could lead to problems as workers may not feel they have adequate time to truly relax away from the workplace and as such could suffer from increased stress, ultimately resulting in burnout and more absence down the line.

When it comes to those who do come into work unwell, they are not giving their immune systems the adequate time to recover and as a result, the illness may persist for a longer period of time. Not to mention giving them an increased susceptibility to further illnesses due to a weakened immune system.

But it's not just ill staff that may feel the increased effects of burnout, your other staff may also suffer as a result. This is because they will have to pick up the slack for any staff taking time off. This increased workload could lead to burnout if not closely managed and result in a domino effect in terms of staff taking time off.

  • Hiding sickness trends

Most employee sickness will be out of your control, but some sits well within it. By monitoring the reasons for any staff absence you can start to uncover subtle trends and see if there is anything that can be done to reduce future absence. This is all well and good but if your employees are putting sick leave down as annual leave you are losing the opportunity to uncover these potentially powerful insights.

Reducing the impact

As you can see the issues associated with a policy of suspending pay during short-term sickness absences can be problematic. But there are ways to reduce or even eliminate the potential negative effects.  

  • Improve communication and workplace relationships

Having a good working relationship with staff can have a number of benefits when it comes to short-term illness and the issues of pay.

The first one is that it allows you to see the subtle signs of sickness. Has an employee been feeling under the weather recently? Has there been a bug going around the office? By having a close working relationship with staff you can start to see these signs and if an employee does request a last-minute holiday you are more likely to spot if this holiday was really taken to cover sick leave.

It can also mean that staff feel more comfortable when it comes to the true reasons for absence and may feel more open when it comes to discussing any issues they may have about missing pay due to sickness.

  • Monitor and record all absence

To fully understand staff absence you need to record and monitor the situation accurately. This will allow you to see if there are any underlying patterns which can be addressed. You could also incorporate return-to-work interviews as part of any absence, this will allow you to get a full understanding of absence and to take any steps to prevent or reduce such absences where possible.

  • Having a positive attitude to sickness

Many employees feel that calling in sick will be frowned upon by their employer and may feel pressure to come into work even if they are unwell. This is not a healthy attitude to have and it is important employers understand the negative effect this can have for both employee and the business.

To do this, you need to put in place a positive attitude to sickness. This could involve outlining procedures in a sickness absence policy, you could think about paying staff for limited sick days or including duvet days in contracts, or it could be a simple as reminding staff that it’s ok to take the occasional sick day.

  • Providing your staff with additional support

Supporting staff and growing your business can be a difficult juggling act and it can often feel like you are neglecting one over the other. For many businesses success wins out and it can feel like your all-important staff take a back seat in your list of priorities. But it doesn’t have to be this way, there are ways you can support your staff without taking your eyes off the prize of business growth.

One way is through an Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) such as Bright EAP. With access to an EAP you and your staff have 24/7, 365 telephone access to trained counsellors who are able to assist on a host of issues, both inside and outside of the workplace. From family matters and financial issues to health and wellbeing information, our EAP gives you and your staff a way to cope with issues that can have a negative impact on performance, such as work-related stress or problems outside of the workplace.

How can BrightHR help your business?

With our brilliant people management software monitoring and recording sickness, holidays and lateness is easy and allows you to uncover any underlying worrying trends. What’s more with Bright EAP we give you the extra support you need in supporting your all-important staff.

Request a free demo of BrightHR today or call one of our team on 1800 279 841.