Last updated March 15, 2024

This training activity is free for you to use and is ideal if you are providing training workshops for managers or team leaders.

This specific activity helps participants to understand the thought process behind staff and employee sickness and absences.

Management training activity

Activity Time-frame

10 minutes is an ideal length for this activity.

This, in essence, is a short activity for participants. It is designed to give them time to think about if and when an employee can be encouraged to come back to work and what things they need to consider.

(This activity relates to the idea of Absenteeism vs Presenteeism and is a part of the Absence Management Training materials).

Starting the Activity

Ask participants to form groups of 3 or 4 people.

Then allocate one or two items on the list (from the PowerPoint slide image below) per group. If you need to, you can create extra examples for participants to use.

Next, ask each group to discuss and decide if and under what circumstances the employees in their examples should be allowed to come back to work.

Give groups 5 minutes for the activity.

Employee sickness assessment task
Assessing employee sickness activity PowerPoint from the Absence Management Training

Group Discussion

After the 5 minutes are up, start a discussion with the whole class for each group to share their ideas with the rest of the class.

Allocate about 5 minutes for this (see below for some ideas on how to deal with each case).]

If you are teaching online

Use breakout rooms to separate participants into groups.

Participants can write down their ideas by using an online whiteboard or a chat.

Once the group activity is over, bring the participants back to the main room for the whole class discussion.]

Group Feedback for Each Workplace Sickness Scenario

Below are some ideas on how to deal with each case.

Also, make it clear to participants that these are just examples and, in real life, they will need to assess each case carefully and consult with a medical professional and/or the occupational therapy department.

1. Somebody who has flu

If somebody has flu, the best bet is to stay at home and rest, particularly if they have a high temperature. Also, you want to avoid an employee infecting others.

2. An office worker with a cold

It is best if they stay at home, to avoid infecting others. If they are not feeling too bad and their company policy allows for it, they could work from home.

3. A lorry driver with a pollen allergy

If the allergy is bad, it could affect their ability to concentrate while they drive. Also, the medication they take might make them feel drowsy. So, it is better if they are off from work until the allergy is gone.

For an office worker, it might be safe to work, but not for anyone whose job involves driving or operating heavy machinery.

4. Somebody with knee arthritis

If they are doing a type of sedentary job, they can work.

However, provide support, such as:

  • making sure that the floor where they work is accessible with a lift or allowing them to work on the ground floor
  • provide car parking near the entrance of the building so they do not need to walk long distances
  • allow time off for medical appointments
  • offer them the option to work from home, at least some of the time, etc.

If their role involves doing heavy physical work, such as lifting weights, see if you can give them a less physically demanding role, for someone with arthritis.

5. An office worker with a broken leg

They can work once dismissed from the hospital, but offer them support similar to the support offered to the office worker with knee arthritis.

6. Somebody suffering from stress

Stress, like other mental issues, is often a hidden problem. Employees with mental health issues do not tend to ask for help or for time off for fear of stigma and the fact that their illness might not be taken seriously.

So, they tend to come to work anyway, until they cannot take it any longer.

So, managers need to keep an eye out for symptoms of mental distress in their staff.

If something seems wrong, there are ways to delicately approach the topic and offer support (for example, flexible working and time off for counseling).

Sometimes it is necessary for an employee to be off, but it is a good idea to allow them back whenever possible (with support) so they do not feel isolated (always liaise with a specialist though).

7. A parking enforcement officer with a sprained ankle.

This type of job requires a lot of walking and standing around, so it is not realistic for them to work unless they can be temporarily given an office-based role.

Managing work absense for employees
>> See the Absence management materials if you want the full PowerPoint and PDFs.

Assessing Employee Sickness Requests Examples

Assessing employee sickness requests requires a balanced approach that considers both the well-being of the employee and the operational needs of the organization.

Here are some further examples of how to assess such requests:

1. Medical Documentation

Ask the employee to provide medical documentation, such as a doctor’s note, explaining the nature of their illness and the expected duration of their absence.

This helps verify the legitimacy of the sickness request.

2. Company Policies

Review company policies regarding sick leave entitlements, notification procedures, and any documentation requirements.

Ensure that the employee’s request aligns with these policies.

3. Past Attendance Records

Consider the employee’s past attendance record. Have they frequently requested sick leave in the past?

Have there been any patterns of absenteeism? This can help determine if the current request is consistent with their previous behavior.

4. Communication

Communicate with the employee to understand the specific circumstances surrounding their illness.

Are there any extenuating factors that may impact their ability to work?

Showing empathy and offering support can help you to build a stronger relationship the employee’s you manage.

5. Workload Impact

Assess the impact of the employee’s absence on their team and the overall workload.

Can tasks be redistributed among other team members, or is the absence likely to cause significant disruption?

It is normally worth trying to make temporary arrangements for the employee’s responsibilities to be covered by others in the team to help them through their return to work.

6. Alternative Work Arrangements

Explore whether the employee can work remotely or undertake modified duties during their illness, if appropriate.

This can help the employee to gradually return to their workload in a practical and manageable way.

7. Return-to-Work Plan

Once the employee is ready to return to work, discuss a plan for their gradual reintroduction to their usual duties.

This may involve phased hours or reduced responsibilities to ease them back into the workflow.

8. Maintain Communication

Stay in touch with the employee throughout their absence to monitor their recovery progress and offer any necessary assistance or support they may require.

This demonstrates concern for their well-being and reinforces a supportive work culture.

By considering these factors, employers can make informed decisions when assessing employee sickness requests, balancing the needs of the individual with those of the organization.

Why a Good Return to Work Process Is Important

A well-designed return-to-work process is essential for a company for many reasons including the following:

1. Reduced Absenteeism

Studies such as that done by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), show that effective return-to-work programs can reduce absenteeism by up to 25%.

By facilitating a smooth transition back to work, employees are more likely to return promptly after an illness or injury, minimizing the impact on productivity.

2. Cost Savings

The Integrated Benefits Institute (IBI) found that companies with comprehensive return-to-work programs experience an average of 28% lower medical costs and 27% lower absenteeism costs compared to those without such programs.

By helping employees return to work sooner, as an organization you can reduce healthcare expenses and avoid productivity losses associated with prolonged absences.

3. Improved Employee Morale and Engagement

A study by the Disability Management Employer Coalition (DMEC) also found that employees who receive support during their return to work are more likely to feel valued and engaged in their jobs.

Experiencing good support from one’s manager and company when returning to work, creates a positive impression and can help to generate a sense of loyalty on the part of the employee.

4. Compliance with Legal Requirements

Many jurisdictions have laws and regulations governing the rights of employees returning to work after illness or injury, such as the UK’s Equality Act or the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

Implementing a structured return-to-work process helps ensure compliance with these legal requirements and reduces the risk of any legislative issues.

5. Maintaining Productivity and Continuity

Delays in the return of key personnel can disrupt workflow and impact business operations.

A systematic return-to-work process helps maintain productivity by facilitating the timely reintroduction of employees into their roles, minimizing disruption, and ensuring continuity of business processes.

Dr Valeria Lo Iacono
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