Looking after your employees will help keep your team and business strong. Part of that is knowing what to do if someone is showing signs of stress, how to handle it if they need to go off sick, and how to fill the labour gap. Stephen Simpson, principal employment law editor at XpertHR, explains.
Employers have a legal duty over health, safety and welfare of employees. An employer can assume an employee is able to withstand normal job pressures, unless there is a vulnerability, such as previous illness. They are not required to eliminate all pressure, but if an employee shows signs of stress, employers should take steps to minimise harm.
Be alert to stress in your team. Individuals may become negative, depressive or have increased emotions; loss of motivation, commitment and confidence; mood swings; lack of concentration; changes in eating or sleeping habits; increased smoking, alcohol consumption or drug use; nervous or ‘twitchy’ behaviour; changes in attendance and poor performance.
If you notice a pattern, act quickly. Arrange to meet prvately with your employee in an informal manner, and encourage them to see their GP. If bullying or harassment by other employees is the cause, investigate and take disciplinary action if needed, or temporarily move them to other duties.
If the cause of stress originates outside work, help them find sources of support and advice, such as counselling. Discuss an agreed action plan with the employee, monitor the situation and schedule a follow-up meeting.
Statutory Sick Pay (SSP), currently £94.25/week, must be paid for up to 28 weeks for employees who are unable to work due to physical or mental illness. To be eligible, the employee must earn at least £118/week normally, and be unable to do their work for four or more consecutive days.
All sickness absences longer than seven calendar days need medical evidence, usually a doctor’s note or ‘fit note’. The note will state the employee is either ‘not fit for work’, in which case they should stay off work or ‘may be fit for work’, and make recommendations such as a phased return, amended job duties, altered hours or workplace adaptations. There is no legal obligation to follow these recommendations, but employers should consider them seriously.
Employers can no longer claim the costs of SSP from the Government. Permanent health insurance (PHI) or income protection may be an option. This pays out an income, a percentage of normal salary, to employees off sick for an extended period. Payments go to the employer to pass on to the employee.
Factors to consider when choosing a PHI provider:
Employers should seek professional advice from an insurance expert.
There are three common ways to cover an employee’s sickness absence:
If someone has been sick for a while, they are more likely to remain at work Adults are entitled to 11 consecutive hours’ rest between working days STEPHEN SIMPSON and not go off sick again if they return on reduced hours and gradually build their hours. Temporarily adjusting their duties may also help.
Discuss things with them when they get back. They might have medical advice from their doctor or you may need to do a risk assessment. Make notes of what has been discussed and decide on a timetable and review.
If the employee has a disability, the employer has a duty to make reasonable adjustments, such as adjusting hours/duties or providing specialist equipment. The law does not stop an employer from dismissing an employee if they are unable to carry out the job that they were recruited for.
‘Incapability’ is potentially a fair reason for dismissal, but the employee must be genuinely unable to do their job and a basic fair dismissal procedure must be followed. To avoid legal disputes, you must take steps to see if you can adjust working arrangements to help the employee return.
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