Absence Management Procedures During Covid

Posted in : Supplementary Articles NI on 23 September 2020
Louise McAloon
Worthingtons Solicitors
Issues covered:

How do I handle absence management procedures during Covid?

Louise: Having a look then in terms of absence management, I suppose absence management has not necessarily been at the top of our agenda over the last number of weeks, but there's absolutely no doubt that when things start to even out a little bit from HR perspective, we will need if we haven't already, we will certainly need to consider as an organisation how are we going to categorise or address COVID-related absences within our absence management procedures. I mean, our policies and procedures still apply and should still be applied. And I suppose before we maybe go into the absence management part, if we can maybe just start at the start in terms of the notification.

It's perfectly proper and acceptable to continue to operate our absence notification procedures in the ordinary fashion. I think the key point is that recognising that not all members of staff may be able to comply just as quickly or in the format that we would come to expect. Doesn't mean to say we don't try. And I think it is important that we bear in mind that it is difficult to get access to GPs at the moment. And technically from a legal perspective, an employee who is absent you don't require certification for up to seven days whilst they appreciate policies may require certification before that. In a strict legal sense, an absence, it doesn't require that certification for the first seven days. And certainly, we can direct and encourage our staff where they are self-isolating to go on to the NHS website to obtain a self-isolation notice. And I've seen quite a few of those coming through and seems to be moving okay.

I think the key point would be if an employee isn't keeping in touch, obviously there's a duty of care to make sure that they're okay. And there is I would certainly encourage us to help our line managers to have a form of communication, whether it'd be a sample email or something prepared, just touching base to say, "We haven't heard from you. You'll be aware that we're required to hear from you within a certain period of time. We hope you're okay. Could you perhaps call me upon receipt of the email or the WhatsApp or whatever just to check in?"

And certainly, whilst I'm not sure too many would really necessarily view disciplinary action as their first priority at this time, I've no doubt that if any of these matters were to be viewed by a tribunal either in the context of a dismissal case or a disability discrimination case, they will not look too favourably on an employer that hasn't ticked the box and made sure that it is checked in on the employee as part of its duty of care. And given people fair warning, "Look, we do expect you to comply. We're giving you an opportunity to rectify a matter, a reasonable amount of time to put things right." And it's that reasonable approach that we were certainly expected to take and I'm sure we will.

It's also encouraging our line managers to keep in touch. So whether it'd be a weekly call, I think many people are remarking and worried about quieter members of staff on the Zoom meetings. And it may well be that it does need to be a hybrid approach where we have one to ones, perhaps once a week or whatever, not solely to talk about work but also to check in that things are okay. But certainly, the importance of communication and keeping a record of that communication.

Louise McAloon will be speaking at Legal Island's online event Managing Sickness Absence in Northern Ireland alongside Dr Philip McCrea, Niall McMullan, Toni Fitzgerald-Gunn and Dr Robert Kerr. View the full programme here.

This article is correct at 23/09/2020
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Louise McAloon
Worthingtons Solicitors

The main content of this article was provided by Louise McAloon. Contact telephone number is 028 9043 4015 or email Louise@worthingtonslaw.co.uk

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