One of the most common issues in probation that I support my clients with is sickness absence.
Sometimes sickness absence in probation can't be helped, especially with things like COVID kicking about. But there are other reasons for sickness absence which you need to manage carefully, despite the employee being in probation.
If you read last week's blog, you will know that the employee being in probation doesn't mean there is absolutely no risk of employment tribunal claims, particularly where employee health is concerned.
Under the Equality Act 2010, employers have a legal obligation to make reasonable adjustments to support employees with health conditions which meet the legal definition of a disability.
That means that if your employee has time off work in their probationary period due to a long term health condition, you need to take proper steps to support the employee before you decide to terminate their employment.
So, how do you deal with this stuff practically?
Some organisations ask employees to complete health questionnaires at the start of their employment and on an ongoing basis through employment. These are useful to a point. Bear in mind that employees are not required to to tell you if they have a long term health condition or disability. Sure, it's helpful, but many people still fear discrimination so often won't disclose health conditions at this point. If you do gather information on health questionnaires, it's important that you actually follow up on any disclosures with relevant support.
As I mentioned in my recent blog on absence management, it's helpful to set a trigger point as to what level of absence is unacceptable in your business. You might choose to set a lower trigger point for during the probationary periods so that when employees reach that trigger, it starts a process.
Follow the Process
As with any HR process, the point is to notify the employee of the issue, support them to improve and review. The same thing goes with absence in probation. If an employee reaches an absence trigger, you should formally meet with the employee to discuss the absences, understand if there are any underlying conditions and suggest steps to support the employee to improve. Make it clear that failure to improve will lead to more formal action such as
If an employee goes on long term sick (over 4 weeks of absence), you may wish to extend their probation to allow them the same amount of time to complete their probationary period. For example, if an employee has 6 weeks off, you might want to extend probation by 6 weeks to compensate them for that time. This allows you both the correct amount of time to assess suitability for the role.
We'll cover how to do the formal stuff next week, so stay tuned!