When dealing with a long-term absence, it is vital employers treat the employee as a person and not a statistic. Although absences lasting six months or more are less likely to occur, they do happen. Employers should be prepared to support these people who are living with serious illness or injury.
Larger companies especially often have a number of employees who are off work for a prolonged period and are (hopefully) being paid a replacement salary via the company’s group income protection policy, assuming the company has insurance in place.
Staying in touch
While these products supply the vital financial support an absentee needs, the workplace can change a lot in the time they are at home recovering. From personnel changes, management changes and fundamental re-structures, the demands of modern business means companies can move forward at a fast pace while an absent employee remains standing still.
This makes it increasingly important for employers to stay in touch with their sick employees, in order to ensure they still feel they are part of the team and have a role to play. This is crucial even if it doesn’t look like they will be returning for a while, so that when they do, it will make the transition of returning to work a lot easier for that employee.
Keeping in touch with absent employees really isn’t difficult, but it does require robust HR processes and a personal touch, including line manager involvement. Whether making a regular phone call, sending email updates, sharing an internal newsletter or making the effort to occasionally visit the employee at home, it’s simple to ensure these people are not forgotten. This way the employee still feels valued and encouraged to return to their work.
The risk of an employee being forgotten is real. Results from our recent research revealed that 48% of employees perceive they would lack employer support if they were off sick from work, a quarter (25%) believe they would only receive the odd phone call and a further 23% think they wouldn’t receive any support at all.
Employees may feel this way because some employers find providing the right personal support their biggest challenge, with 20% of our respondents saying this was the case. Integrating regular communication with absent employees into HR processes could help them to overcome this and ensure their employees feel valued even when absent.
Employers also need to be mindful of some practical implications too. Employees who are absent long term will usually retain other employee benefits in addition to their group income protection, in particular their life insurance.
Life insurance is of course essential cover, especially for those absent with life threatening conditions. Yet when we ask companies for a list of long term absentees who require life insurance, we have seen a few cases where the employer hasn’t told us about employees claiming income protection benefit, only providing details of more recent absentees.
Such an oversight can have disastrous effects on the cover, either for that individual (or more likely their dependents), or potentially for the employer, whereby the employee’s death could leave them with a large uninsured liability.
Where data is provided, quite often the cover requested for these employees is incorrect. With insured benefits provided via payroll, we are often given an absentee’s group income protection replacement salary for their life insurance, instead of their pre-disability salary. As well as having an administrative implication, incorrect data at the very least can delay a claim payment being made to the employee’s family.
These are examples of simple mistakes that can easily be avoided. Yet the real issue here is that this suggests that these employees are being forgotten about. If an employer is unable to provide a list of employees absent long term when asked, it’s unlikely that person is receiving any communication or support from their employer whatsoever.
In a nutshell
It’s vital that employers know where their people are and how they are, even if they have been absent for a prolonged period. Regular communication with an absentee ensures they remain in the loop and helps make their transition back to work easier.
Practically, employers should also be keeping up on top of their data so that when it comes to administering their group life policy, absentee data is uploaded correctly and that each employee is covered for the correct benefit.
These practices will ensure group income protection claimants are not forgotten about.