Employers raise long-term sickness absence concerns

Nearly half of employers consider long-term sick leave to be a problem for their business, with more than a quarter admitting that it gives them a major staffing headache, a poll carried out by health insurer Aviva has argued.

Yet, despite the impact that staff sickness may have on a business, the research also suggested that employers often worry a lot about how best to respond.

More than one-third (34%) of employers said they worried about how they could balance obligations to employees while managing the business at the same time.

Joe McMorrow, employment lawyer at Pinsent Masons, says it is vital to provide adequate support for employees returning from long term sick leave.

The study of 1,000 adults and 688 employers by Aviva UK Health argued that business owners feel torn between their emotions and business duties when dealing with employees who are on long-term leave of absence.

While musculoskeletal problems still heavily contribute to work absence (27%), many companies have to deal with highly emotive conditions such as cancer (19%), mental health issues (30%) and drink- and drug-related issues (16%). In addition, nearly one in five employers (16%) said they had dealt with staff that were experiencing heart problems.

While traditional business pressures remain – with more than one-third stating that they were concerned about how to balance legal obligations to the employee while managing the business – employers increasingly faced emotional challenges, said Aviva.

More than six out of 10 said their primary concern when an employee went on long-term absence was the health and wellbeing of the employee. A further 23% were anxious about the pressure that this absence would put on other employees’ workloads.

With survival rates from conditions such as cancer improving, many employees were eager to return to the normality of the office.

Yet, nearly one in five employers admitted that when dealing with someone with a potentially life-threatening condition, they would find it even harder to manage the needs of business and their duty of care to the employee. A total of 14% said they would be anxious about finding a way to deal with the employee without causing upset.

Steve Bridger, head of group risk at Aviva UK Health, said: “Our research shows that many companies are affected by long-term sickness absence. Employees need care and consideration when they are unwell but, crucially, they also need expert physical and psychological support to help them return to and stay in work.”

XpertHR provides a model policy in relation to long-term sickness absence.

XpertHR also offers a guide for employers when dealing with employees on long-term sickness absence.

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