Sickness Absence Management and Good Practice

  1. Introduction
  2. Elements of good practice
  3. Links to further information and resources


This guidance and related pages aim to provide you with material and information about the range of approaches that organisations can take to monitor and manage sickness absence.

Surveys indicate that the most common causes of short-term absence are:

For long-term sickness absence the most common causes are:

Most people suffer, now and again, from minor illnesses that naturally resolve over the short term and may on occasion result in a short time off work sick. However for a small number of employees sickness absence can drift from weeks to months making a return to work less likely. After six weeks absence an employee's ability to return to work falls away rapidly, for example someone with six months' absence due to back pain has only a 50% chance of return.

Although it is known that not all absence is within an employer's control, it is accepted that an employer has a very important role to play in managing and reducing sickness absence and creating a positive and healthy working environment for employees and this is particularly so for longer term absences. There is much to be gained by both employers and employees adopting a positive approach to managing sickness absence - one that is based on providing active help to off-sick employees to help them recover and reintegrate back in to work.

A range of processes has been reported to be effective in the management of sickness absence. However, if introduced and practised poorly they can be a cause of tension and down right hostility within an organisation. Therefore managing absence should be carried out within a clearly defined policy that sets out the roles and responsibilities of employers and employees and the procedures to be adhered to. It needs to be developed and introduced in partnership with employees and their representatives. This policy needs to exist alongside policies that enable employees to manage their work/life balance without using sickness as a false reason for absence.

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Elements of good practice

The following are elements of good practice in helping off-sick employees recover and reintegrate back in to work:

The HSE has provided detailed guidance on a six stage process at and an example policy at The site also provides other helpful advice and documents on Sickness Absence management.

Some useful links for further information on the range of processes and actions that can be taken to help in the management of Sickness Absence are given below.

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Links to further information

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) Sickness Absence Management Site provide detailed information. HSE also provides a great deal of other information on the management of workplace health and safety issues. Guidance documents and research reports are provided on key occupational health issues including, asthma, backpain, musculoskeletal disorders and stress.

Managing Absence: provides employers and managers with detailed information about sickness absence and the costs and issues surrounding it. It also outlines approaches that can be taken to deal with short-term sickness absence. Provides comprehensive links to other relevant organisations & web sites.

The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) provide in-depth professional information on human resource issues. Offers access to on-line reports and surveys about absence management. Reports can be accessed on-line for registered users.

The Work Foundation (formerly The Industrial Society) has produced a summary report summarising best practice in the management of absence.

The Employers Organisation for Local Government has produced guidance documents about the management of ill health especially aimed at those working in the Public Sector: the Management of Ill Health Handbook (2002) Health and Safety information from the TUC provides information to employees on current issues.

The European Agency for Safety and Health at Work

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