NICE publishes fresh guidance for employers on managing long term sickness absence

Managing long-term sickness absence

New guidance is now available for employers on best practices for managing long term sickness absence.  The guidance from the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), supported by Public Health England, is designed as a resource for all employers in the UK.  

The new guidance comes in the form of a flowchart which can form the basis for developing best practice policies for implementation backed up by comprehensive recommendations around key aspects of managing long-term employee absence.  

One notable feature of the guidance is its starting point of having a supportive workplace culture in place.  This staple is an essential foundation for managing employee health and wellbeing effectively, and something we always emphasise.  It also emphasises the critical communication loop that should be established in the case of sickness absence of any kind – but becomes increasingly important when a health issue causes long-term sickness absence.  

The value of evidence is implicit in this structured and comprehensive approach – at all stages, regular and timely contact with any employee who is off sick is recommended.  Reliable data is important to enable employers to take effective actions 

The chart provides a simple but crystal clear step by step overview of the process of managing this issue, while the in depth recommendations for managing long term employee sickness absence are designed to give useful insight not just to large enterprises, but also to those with smaller numbers of employees.  They go into a powerful level of detail about key stages and documentation around aspects such as statements of fitness for work, and much more.    

Putting long-term sickness absence management policies into practice 

The challenge for many employers is not just setting policies down in theory – it is ensuring that policies are implementable in practice.  This is often a challenge even managing short term absences.  

Employers who review and wish to act upon this guidance – and we urge them to do so – will need to consider carefully what support and guidance their managers need to put it into practice, to answer important questions including: 

  • How can they ensure managers gain the right input and guidance in order to take the right actions, in the right order and at the right time, to protect the interests of both the organisation and the employee? 
  • How will managers need to engage with the employee throughout and ensure timely and effective interventions from occupational health providers or employee assistance programme providers?   
  • How will they maintain complete records with an appropriate level of confidentiality, yet balance this with ensuring senior HR and executive leaders are equipped with insights and information with which to make smart and strategic workforce decisions? 
  • How will they ensure that essential adjustments or work modifications are identified and then followed through? 

The practicalities and difficulties of bringing policies to life in ways that support both the organisation and its staff is one of the reasons that Empactis’ own absence platform focuses on connecting employees and the organisation into clearly identified workflows. It enables employees to self-notify of sickness absence at any time, alerting line managers faster, and then ensuring that those same managers are empowered and supported to follow correct return to work procedures and all the essential ongoing engagement, whether in the short term or when that turns into long-term sickness absence.  

It is designed to enable the workflows, actions and data capture to help employers fulfil their duty of care to staff, but at the same time serve the needs of the organisation to maintain visibility and make informed and fully contextualised decisions. With a complete and current overview of the data, it drives better decisions to enable the evolution of the supportive and healthy workplace culture that is so important to all.  

NICE has a bank of other resources which employers may find very useful, including a guide to Workplace health covering management policies and practices and a set of tools and resources for calculating costs, conducting assessments, and more.