Sick days: how many is too many?

There are an enormous number of variables when it comes to taking time off work due to sickness – but how much time off is too much? Alan Price, CEO and HR expert of BrightHR, explores

Although it may be an inconvenience to employers, employees will, undoubtedly, become sick on occasion and require time off work; whilst a few sick days here and there may not necessarily have a big impact, repeated or prolonged absences can have a substantial effect on productivity.

Employers often ask how many sick days each employee can be expected to take each year – however there is no concrete answer to this. Recent surveys have shown that UK employees spend an average of five days off sick every 12 months, but individual circumstances can cause this to vary greatly.

Employers are free to set their own thresholds when it comes to determining what qualifies as too much sick leave and it is at this point that they may choose to take disciplinary action if they determine that absences are become increasingly high.

Having said this, employers should treat each sickness absence on its own merits and ensure staff are aware of the appropriate absence notification procedures. Good record-keeping is also integral and each instance of sickness, and the nature of the illness, should be documented once an employee returns to work.

Keeping full records will allow employers to assess any recurring patterns and identify where some employees may be taking a greater number of sick days compared to their colleagues.

Whilst employers may find themselves frustrated with staff that take a substantial amount of time off sick it is important not rush into any rash decisions in these circumstances. Instead, employers should take time to look into the reason behind the sickness and ensure they make reasonable adjustments where a disability is involved to remove any adverse effect on the individual.

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Some employers choose to offer incentives in order to reduce the number of sick days and dissuade staff from taking the day off sick when they are generally well enough to perform at work. However, employers should also keep a close eye out for presenteeism, which can occur as a result and have an equally detrimental impact on their organisation.

With this in mind, employers should understand that they are never going to prevent sickness absences entirely – yet those who take the appropriate steps to monitor sick leave, and who support staff during these times, will be able to reduce the adverse impact this could have on business operations.

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