Managing Sickness At Work: Small Business Guidelines

dreamstime_xs_25976137Sickness and absence in the workplace can be a nightmare for small business owners. It’s disruptive, affects your productivity, and puts a lot of pressure on everyone else. However, when people are ill, they are sick – you can’t expect them to work, and even if they came in you run the risk of them spreading the illness further.

It is impossible to remove the sickness issue, but it’s how you manage it that counts. And these brief guidelines should help get you started in the right direction. Let’s take a look at the right way small business owners should deal with absence and illness at work.

Talk to your staff

Be open and honest with your employees, and most will give you the same courtesy. Speak to them about their issues – the cause and reasons for their absence. If there is any way of helping them, offer it – do all you can to assists them.

Monitor everything

It’s vital to keep a record of employee absence, as people can take advantage of you if they think they can get away with it. Monitoring absence is the first step in the process of managing the situation, and for many people, it’s more than enough. It doesn’t matter what the absence is for, or how long they last for; it is imperative that you have a record.

Using the data

Now you have some information on all your staff absences; you can put it to good use. You might find patterns which coincide with particular times of the year. For example, is there an employee who appears to get ill more during the school holidays? Are there people who are always ill on a Friday or Monday – or both? Plenty of HR software packages are available to help you track and keep on top of staff absences, most of which are affordable – and cost-effective. So, find one that matches your needs as a small business. It will help you notice little patterns that you might not have seen before.

Keep in touch with long-term absentees

It’s a good idea to remain in contact with employees who are off sick long-term. However, be wary not to make them feel like you are hassling them or getting at them to return to work regardless of their health condition. Also, be wary of pushing them for a return date if they just cannot give you one. Again, it’s OK to ask how they are getting on, but you cannot step into harassment territory. Don’t forget, many long-term absentees will appreciate your call, as they will be keen to get back to work whenever possible. While illness can cause disruption to your business, it is critical that you don’t paint everyone with the same brush, or assume that everyone is trying to diddle you out of money.

Short-term absences

In many ways, short-term absentees who take off many days across the year can cause much more disruption than someone who is ill for a long time. You cannot plan for these events, and it can often leave you short staffed and with a mountain to climb to stay on top of everything. This can be a tricky area to deal with, particularly if there is no underlying condition. However, if you don’t see any doctor’s notes or hear a good reason why the person is off sick a lot, it’s good grounds for an investigation. If you find there is a breach of your sickness policy, you may be able to implement steps, such as disciplinary action or an employee improvement strategy.


Of course, one of the biggest problems for small businesses is that they have to offer sick pay to employees. It’s important to make your sickness policy clear in your contracts, and you may need to pay Statutory Sick Pay. Entitlement for SSP kicks in after four days of illness, and your employee will be eligible to claim it for no more than 28 weeks.


Managing sickness and absence can be tough for small business owners. But it is achievable if you take the time to communicate with your employees, monitor their illness, and offer your complete support. If that doesn’t encourage your staff to return to work, it is important that you take the appropriate steps, and ensure you are acting within your employer’s responsibilities. Get help from an HR professional if you are struggling to get to grips with a particular scenario – they will help you resolve your issue. Good luck!

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