It’s inevitable that some employees will need to take time off work due to illness, much of this is short-term for minor ailments but when people are seriously unwell they may well be away from the workplace for extended periods of time. What policies should you have in place?

We spoke to Christine Husbands, managing director  at RedArc Nurses to see what the best advice is for illness in the workplace.

How should a policy be designed for illness?

In designing company policies and procedures for managing absence, employers need to remember that employees using these processes will be unwell, and those who are seriously unwell may find the simplest tasks daunting.

Therefore, as simple a process as possible for managing absence should be in place, clearly documented and communicated to all employees. Important things to include are: who to contact in the event of illness and how; what support is available and how to access it; keeping in touch during long-term absence; and flexible arrangements for returning to work.

What about when we look at benefits packages? 

Employers often have a wide range of employee benefits that can help people who are unwell, such as occupational health support, Private Medical Insurance and Employee Assistance Programmes. Added-value benefits included as part of group risk products are often overlooked by employers, but these can bring significant benefit to employees. These can include medical helplines, a second medical opinion service, practical help at home and a nurse adviser service.

Private Medical Insurance obviously provides private treatment and diagnostics but employees are often unsure of exactly what cover is included, any limitations and how to initiate it. It is very important that such detail is communicated because the employee is liable for any costs not covered by the insurance.

Helplines can be very useful, for one-off enquiries. For example, a 24-hour GP helpline can be very useful if the employee struggles to get an appointment at their local surgery or they need help outside of surgery hours. However this service is most relevant for minor ailments and of limited value to those with long-term conditions.

Employee Assistance Programmes often provide a wide range of services, including debt advice, legal helplines and counselling services. However, whilst employees can benefit from professional counselling, this may not always be the most appropriate service for them.

Are employers anxious that their conditions might be ‘on the record?’

We find that many employees really value support services which are provided confidentially, outside of the employer, enabling them to discuss their health without concern about how the employer might view this. When seriously unwell, employees will have many worries and anxieties including whether they will be able to return to work, will their employer push them to get back too soon or will they try to dismiss them.

Employees with long-term conditions need holistic long-term support tailored for them which takes into account a number of areas: their health condition, emotional wellbeing, family situation and how to access support that their employer has put in place for them. Nurse adviser services are available which address all of these areas and ensure that the employee knows how to utilise the benefits available from the employer, the NHS as well as relevant charities.

Employees who find themselves as long-term carers for a loved one, need much of the same support as those who are ill themselves. Forward-thinking employers will have a policy in place to cater for those with sometimes very onerous caring responsibilities.

There is clearly going to be value for the employer.

Absolutely. An employer who has a clear and simple process for managing long-term access, coupled with a well-understood range of support services can make things significantly easier for employees. This clearly reflects well on the employer as a caring company to work for, engendering loyalty, helping with recruitment and retention and is a clear demonstration of their duty of care.

How are you managing your illness and wellness policies?