Maintain contact

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Positive and regular contact with your employee is crucial

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All you need to know in 30 seconds

  • Maintain positive and regular contact with your employee to make them feel more valued and prevent them from feeling isolated.
  • Contact your employee as soon as possible to discuss the reason for absence and its likely duration.
  • Assure the employee that you will contact them at regular agreed times (usually weekly), setting aside time for them to talk to you about any support they need.
  • Find out if there are organisational policies in place for keeping in contact, use them and communicate them to your team.
  • For a longer period of absence, keep your employee updated about work and consider an active case management approach to keep track of their absence.

Ask your employee:

  • How they are and how their condition is progressing
  • If they need help accessing appropriate support and treatment
  • When they might feel ready to return to work
  • What is preventing them from returning now - could they do minimal or adjusted duties

All you need to know in detail

Positive and regular contact with your employee is crucial, and can help them feel supported and valued, and prevent them from feeling isolated.

Talk to your employee about the nature of their illness, its impact on their work and likely duration, as soon as they report their absence from work. If you don’t take their first call, contact the employee at the earliest opportunity to have this discussion.

Weekly contact with employees is recommended for illnesses lasting several weeks, as well as for illnesses that will result in a longer period of absence. However each case will be slightly different due to the nature of the employee’s illness, so the frequency of contact should be discussed and agreed with the employee.

As well as agreeing to the frequency of contact, make sure you also set aside time to fully discuss their absence and any support they may need. Always remind your employee that you will be keeping in contact with them during their absence and that you are there to help facilitate their return to work.

Helpful questions to ask your employee include:

  • How are they doing?
  • Are they making progress?
  • Are they receiving appropriate support and treatment?
  • Are they waiting for physiotherapy, counselling, outpatient appointments or inpatient services?
  • What parts of their current job can’t the employee do?
  • When might the employee feel ready to return to work?
  • Can they do minimal or adjusted duties?
  • What can you do for your employee? For example:
    • facilitate easier access to physiotherapy, counselling etc.
    • make adjustments to hours or duties
    • explore possibilities of temporary alternative work

To find out more about providing any help your employee needs, see sections on rapid access to treatment, phased return, making reasonable adjustments and redeployment. 

For longer absences, update the employee about any work changes that have happened during their absence, to prevent them from feeling isolated. Keep your employee in the loop by including them in emails about work, so they can keep an eye on things while they are absent or catch up when they return. This will help them alleviate any worries about their work, and who is covering for them.

Find out if there are organisational policies in place for keeping in contact, and use them. Ensure your team are familiar with reporting procedures so they know what to do and expect when they are absent. If a reporting procedure needs development, get your staff involved as this helps employees feel supported and less worried if they do need to follow the procedure.

Case management approach

For longer absences, consider taking an active case management approach to manage the absence. This approach is when the line manager, human resources, occupational health, your employee and (where appropriate) the GP or other medical professional work together to actively manage the absence.

This approach should take place from very early on in the sickness absence episode. One individual should be in charge of ‘the case’ and should work to ensure that the process is streamlined and that there are minimal unnecessary delays – for example in sharing information between each party and in getting appointments.