Absence policy: Every employer has the ability to meet the needs and wants of his employees in a number of ways. Of course, with an above-average salary and good secondary employment conditions to name a few. But also, with a clear and accessible policy. There exist all sorts of policies: Policies regarding, E.g. leave, anniversaries, schooling and certainly also where absence is concerned and everything that surrounds it. The policy should clearly describe rights and obligations that apply to both the employer and the employee, as soon as absence occurs.
The So-called Sick Leave Policy.
Why a sick leave policy?
A sickness absence policy is not only a legal obligation under the Working Conditions Decree, but it is also a means to map out, control and, if necessary, reduce absences within the company. The usefulness of a sick leave policy is not only on your side as an employer, but the employees also benefit such a policy. With a clearly defined policy, employees are aware of the consequences that absence entails. This will make them feel more involved in the sick leave process and since the procedures are the same for all employees, the policy described will serve as confirmation for them that no one is pre-empted or in an exceptional position. This certainly benefits the atmosphere on the work floor and the unity within an organization.
Legal Obligations About the Absenteeism Policy
The Working Conditions Decree (Article 2.9) states that an employer must be advised by an occupational health and safety service about the implementation of a systematic, structured and effective absence policy. The Health and Safety Service has a number of tools available for this purpose, which the employer can use. It is important that you as an employer look closely at what fits within the organization and the policy, as you will be drafting it, it is a reflection of the company’s vision regarding the absence. If you believe that a sick employee should be left alone, you can suffice with very flexible policy.
Do you think, however, that as an employer you have to make an active contribution to a return as soon as possible on the work floor? then it is time to record a few things in more detail. As an employer, you are legally obliged to make the absence policy “effective”, but how you see that is largely up to you.
According to the law, an effective absence policy states at least the following:
- Failure prevention (which measures you take to prevent absences)
- Absence protocol (procedures concerning reporting sick and being ill)
- Absence registration and analysis (recording of absence cases and evaluation thereof)
So, you can start by drawing up the absence policy with these three components. Incidentally, another requirement is that the ultimately defined policy must be borne by the personnel. They, therefore, have to agree with the policy. This can be done by consent of a works council or other employee representatives. Of course, a majority of votes during a staff meeting that is being noted is also sufficient.
Awareness of Consequences
In addition to the legal obligations regarding the policy, it is good to realize that not every sickness reporting is legitimate. Figures show that one in six employees sometimes untruthfully call in ill and that more than half think that their wages are always paid under the Sickness Benefits Act. So that their sick report has no financial consequences for you as an employer. And to what extent are you aware of the cost that the absence of employees entails? Did you know, for example, on average you can save €250.00 every day that a sick employee returns to the shop floor?
Because in addition to a higher premium for sick leave insurance and possible costs for replacement personnel, the wage must also be paid. This is because the absence insurance usually no compensation for this wage exists from day one. It is good, and certainly not an unnecessary luxury, to point out to employees. Unless stipulated otherwise in the collective labor agreement or employment contract, as an employer you may even include in the absence policy that the first two days of sick leave will be paid by an employee. Whether this fits well within the company and whether you want, this is, of course, something that only you or a member of management can answer. But the fact and the knowledge that a sickness report has direct consequences for the company can be a reason for an employee to go to work and not to sign off because of “illness”.
Benefits of a Policy of Absenteeism
As mentioned here and there, there are many benefits to be gained with a clear absence policy. After all, it can be concluded that the benefits for the employer can also be seen as benefits for the employee and vice versa. They both benefit from the mutual optimal representation of interests and nobody is out to harm the other person. A global summary of the benefits:
- Clear agreements benefit internal communication
- Equal procedures for all employees create a sense of unity
- Delineation of responsibilities and powers creates a clear hierarchy
- Awareness of consequences means that these are shared
- Described rights and duties prevent ambiguity
- Nobody can claim ignorance in organizations that are widely accepted
Naturally, the company-specific benefits vary per organization. Within each company, there is now a different, individual culture and what applies to one organization does not necessarily have to apply to the other. What is the same for every employer, are matters that absolutely must be addressed in the absence policy.
What should be included in a sickness absence policy?
There are a number of issues that need to be mentioned in the absence policy and there are a number of topics that may be discussed. In any case, the legal parts must be described.
Of course, you cannot prevent absences from occurring, sometimes people do get sick. What you can do is map out any specific risks of absence within the organization. You can include this in a Risk Inventory & Evaluation (RI & E, which is also legally required). By looking within the company where bottlenecks are located that could be a possible cause of absences, then you can take preventive measures.
For example: if many ad-hoc activities with a short deadline have to be performed in a certain department, employees can experience this as work pressure. A preventive measure can be used here to set a maximum number of cases per employee so that the work pressure is reduced.
What you can also think about is encouraging or enabling company fitness (physical effort contributes to mental relaxation). Another possibility is a periodic health check, or preventive medical examination (of course entirely voluntary and confidential). But also appointing or appointing a confidential counsellor can help an employee who is struggling with personal or work-related issues to get things back on track. The result is that a possible downward spiral of negativity does not occur.
As an employer, you have to make sure that employees have access to a company doctor who they can address with any complaints. Moreover, as an employer, you also need to inform the employees about this. So, the occupational health service must come with the name and contact details in the absence policy described.
In this section, you must also state which measures you have already taken regarding the prevention of absence.
Employees need to know how they can report sick and which follow-up measures relate to their reporting of illness. There should be no ambiguity about this. This section is about the actual rights and obligations. The protocol must answer the following questions:
- To whom should the sickness/disease be reported?
- How can an illness report be passed on?
- By whom should the sick report be passed on?
- How long should an illness be reported before the start of the service?
- What should be communicated in the absence notification?
- Is a written record made?
- Reporting of sickness, What is done with the report afterwards?
- When does the check take place?
- Who does the check?
- Questions to ask during the check.
- Absence guidance, does an outline of what to do in this scenario exist?
- The consequences of an illness report?
- Procedure in cases of long-term absences?
The clearer you are in the procedure, the more employees become aware that a sickness absence notification is a serious disruption to the work process. There are now a lot of things that “come around the corner”. Matters about reporting sick and being ill during the days of leave are often not clear to all employees. It therefore certainly pays to go into this in the absenteeism protocol.
Absence Registration and Analysis
A policy without registration and analysis is like a novel without a story: a useless piece of text. If you do not register anything, you cannot make an analysis, which makes it impossible to implement or adjust the policy. Failure figures provide insight into the condition of the employees. You can request anonymous reasons regarding sickness absence via the working conditions service. This gives you tools to recognize absence patterns and perhaps also to address them (in the context of possible absence prevention).
It is important that you register with every employee from the first day of absence. After all, reporting is part of the absence protocol. Any trends in absenteeism can, therefore, be easily identified and perhaps even addressed. If, for example, it appears that the percentage of absences in relation to stress-related complaints is higher in a certain period, then you can take measures to ensure that employees receive more relaxing work interruptions during that period (for example, an extensive Monday lunch, Friday afternoon drinks, a chair massage).
In Contact With Employees
You can also decide to conduct performance interviews during that period so that employees can express their workload or complaints.
Regularly informing employees of the absenteeism figures can be a means to provide them with awareness. It is not the intention that the absence figures become part of the person or company KPIs (Key Performance Indicators). In other words, the approach to communicating absenteeism figures should not have a manipulative goal. It is purely intended to inform the employees and possibly encourage them to think about how the figures can be reduced. And if the organization has had low absenteeism rates for years, then this is a good indication that the absence policy works and that employees are aware of the fact that they are a valuable addition to the company.
In this section of the absence policy, you describe how you collect the absenteeism figures, how and with whom you analyze them. You also describe the communication of the findings and the purpose for which you communicate the data. You may also include the provisions from the absence insurance policy, provided that these are related to absenteeism percentages.
The DO NOT Part of an absence policy
In addition to a lot of do’s (as described above), there are also a number of absolute do not’s regarding a sickness absence policy.
From the Dutch Personal Data Authority, for example, you as an employer are not allowed to ask about the cause/nature of the sickness report or which activities the sick employee could still do. This is, of course, a shame, because that information can give you an indication of how long the absence can last. And that is the last question you can ask. But even though it is not allowed to ask about the cause/nature of the disease, the health and safety service may do so. And they can inform you again (obviously not in detail).
Nor can the employer determine on his own initiative that payment of wages can be stopped. Even though you have serious doubts about the authenticity of the sickness report. You cannot include penalties in the absenteeism policy here. Not even if you can prove that an employee is not really sick. You must always carry out any sanctions carefully and within the law and in consultation with the working conditions service.
No Absenteeism Policy Yet?
If you do not yet have a described (and approved) absenteeism policy, then you cannot enter the policy that you draw up unilaterally. At least, not for the employees who are already employed by you. You will always have to be able to provide evidence that the employees have agreed to the policy before putting it into operation.
All in all, you can state that both you and the employees benefit from a clear absenteeism policy. It is at least a proven measure to identify and control levels of absence. It also offers the possibility to use interventions such as stress prevention training:
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