How to handle Sickness Absence fairly

Sickness absence can have a big impact on your company and cause problems for staff left to cover.

The challenge is understanding when to apply reasonableness, compassion and empathy and when it is time to instigate a disciplinary process. Good and early communication with the employee is key to give you an understanding of their work and home environments.  


Type of absence 


Employer considerations 

Everyday life absence 

Typically, 7 or fewer days a year. 

No disciplinary process or medical certification required. 

Persistent un-linked absence 

Typically, greater than 7 days in a 12-month rolling period, various reasons with little or no medical certification. 

May lead to a disciplinary process. 

Is there an underlying issue either inside or outside of work? 

Seek medical records. 

Absence with a condition 

Variable, it depends on the condition. 

Is this condition a ‘disability’? 

Seek medical records / occupational health advice. 

May require reasonable adjustments on the employer’s part. 

Long-term sickness 

Over 4 weeks of continuous absence. 

May lead to formal capability process and perhaps inability to continue employment. 

Seek medical records. 


Holding a consistent return to work conversation (and keeping notes) when your employees do come back is a good idea. That way, your team know that you are taking an interest and it gives them the opportunity to explain to you what is happening with their health. It is important to acknowledge that well-being comprises not only physical health but also mental, emotional and spiritual health. Very often stresses from home life can spill over into the work environment.

As an employer you need to consider the wider impact on the team if a colleague is frequently off work against your duty of care towards your employee. If everyone understands the process and structure it is much easier to have those potentially difficult conversations with staff. 

If you are concerned that your employee has an ongoing condition or frequent absences due to sickness, you can request access to medical records or use an occupational health service. This will allow you to understand whether their illness is likely to be classed as a disability and what reasonable measures could be put in place to support them. 

Employees whose sickness absence is related to a disability (ie a physical or mental impairment that has a ‘substantial’ and ‘long-term’ negative effect on their ability to do normal daily activities) are entitled to protection against disability discrimination under the Equality Act 2010.

Clink the link below to sign up to our helpdesk and download a helpful template of a Self-Certification Form which can be used to be sent to your employee.

Self-Certification Form