PwC Absence Figures ‘Highlight Need For Action On Sickness’

Lawyer Urges Employers To Ensure Measures Are In Place To Tackle Issue


By Rob Dixon

New figures showing a fall in the number of sick days being taken by the UK workforce are a welcome but timely reminder to employers that they need robust and comprehensive policies in place to tackle the issue, according to an employment law expert.

The research by PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) revealed that UK workers have an average of 9.1 days off annually due to sickness, with such issues accounting for 90 per cent of a company’s absence bill – approximately £28.8 billion.

Whilst the number of unscheduled absences was found to be lower than in 2011, the number of days due to illness was found to be slightly higher.

UK workers also have more sick days on average than their counterparts in the US, Western Europe and Asia Pacific. The release of the research came as new Office for National Statistics figures revealed UK unemployment fell by 57,000 to 2.51 million in the three months to May.

According to Glenn Hayes, an employment law expert and Partner at Irwin Mitchell’s Leeds office, such findings only serve to demonstrate the clear need for businesses to ensure they have thorough policies in place to address the issue of sickness absence.

He outlined: “Unscheduled absences are falling, but the fact that the proportion of leave related to sickness has risen shows that this very much remains a live issue for employers to actively examine and look to address. However, there remains a variety of tactics that businesses can consider to tackle this.

“Through our work, we’ve seen that it is not uncommon for larger firms to consider investment in in-house counselling services. Whilst it can of course be an expensive step, it can be particularly worthwhile in terms of ensuring that workers are able to get vital support on mental health or depression issues to not only aid their recovery but also their re-integration back into the workplace at an earlier stage.

“A more common (and less expensive) tool in an employer’s armoury – and something which should never be ignored – is the return to work interview. A key part of the absence process, it gives employers a chance to ask important questions in a sympathetic manner and can, in many cases, lead to an early intervention on the key issues affecting employees.”

Glenn added: “Another perhaps more robust issue for consideration could be the issue of sick pay, primarily reducing the salary that people receive whilst they are off sick. This can act as a disincentive to taking sickness leave and is of course a contentious course of action and should only really be considered as a last resort.

“It is of course also not uncommon for employers to use absence rates as part of criteria on the issue of redundancy, so this may be something that organisations wish to reiterate to staff in a considered manner.

“The fact that this information has been released as figures show a fall in unemployment should not be forgotten. It is welcome more people are getting into work, but it is also important for employers to ensure they have measures in place which minimise the impact of sickness and provide workers with the right support when necessary.”

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