Long term unscheduled absence is usually defined as a continuous absence due to chronic illness or injury. It can be a difficult time for both you and the individual. Your role is to help the employee to maintain a connection with the workplace, ensure their work is progressed while they're away, and minimise any impact on team productivity. For employees who take continuous absences:
- Find out about your organisation's policies for supporting and managing long term absence.
- Make sure you receive a medical certificate explaining your employee's absence and expected duration, and provide this to HR immediately to ensure the employee's leave record and pay are correct.
- Keep in touch with your employee and agree how often and in what format your catch ups will be.
- Reassure the employee that their workload will be covered, and delegate to other employees.
- Learn about the condition affecting your employee and seek advice from appropriate support groups such as EAP.
- Plan for the employee's return to work, make reasonable adjustments, and identify options if they're unable to return to their original role or work environment.
- Work with HR at all stages - they are a great source of information and support.
Tools and resources
Positive and regular contact with your employee is crucial. It helps them feel valued and prevents them from feeling isolated. Weekly contact with employees is recommended for illnesses lasting several weeks or more. However, each case will be slightly different, so the frequency of contact should be discussed and agreed with the employee. Consider what your workplace can offer to better support the individual's circumstances. Things to consider may include:
- Offering a phased return to work plan, based on the individual's reported capabilities.
- Amending the individual's duties while on a phased return to work.
- Arranging regular one-on-one conversations to discuss progress, support and any problems.
- Identifying an alternative suitable role, if required.
For longer absences, consider taking an active case management approach. This involves you as the employee's manager, human resources, occupational health specialist/therapist, your employee and (where appropriate) the GP or other medical professional all working together to actively manage the absence.