Sickness absence with a silver lining

Sickness absence with a silver lining

The Office for National Statistics (ONS), has just released its sickness figures for 2020. And they aren’t as bad as you might think.

In 2020 approximately 118.6 million working days were lost due to sickness or injury. Which sounds a lot but is the same as just 3.6 days per worker per year and this is the lowest rate since ONS records began in 1995 (1.8% of all working hours lost to sickness).

The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has affected the sickness absence data in a number of ways. While the virus may have led to additional sickness absence, measures such as furloughing, social distancing, shielding and increased homeworking appear to have helped reduce other causes of absence, allowing the general downward trend to continue.

By far the most common reason for sickness absence was minor illness, which accounted for 30.95 million lost days. “Minor Illnesses” includes coughs, colds and flu; sickness, nausea and diarrhoea.

Coronavirus absence was tracked separately and since April 2020, has accounted for 14% of all sickness absence.

There are four main reasons for sickness absence in the UK; these have shown the highest percentage of occurrences over most of the decade. The 2020 figures are:

  • minor illnesses (26.1%)
  • other conditions (17.1%)
  • musculoskeletal problems (15.4%)
  • coronavirus (14%)
  • mental health conditions (11.6%)

“Other” conditions have become the second most common reason for sickness absence. This includes accidents, poisonings, infectious diseases, skin disorders, diabetes and anything else not covered.

London had the lowest sickness absence rate in 2020 at 0.4 percentage points less than the UK average

If your staff is taking more than the national average, it is not necessarily a cause for concern. But you do need to know what they were off with and whether there is anything you could do at work to make them “less sick”.

Always make them self-certify (if fewer than seven calendar days off sick) and if they are off for longer, then make sure you have a Fit Note from their GP.

Don’t, as one company intended to, just ask for a Fit Note from those employees who they think are lying about their absence, or aren’t performing.

Even if you only pay SSP, this is a government scheme that requires the correct paperwork for it to be paid. No Fit Note, no sick pay.

Sickness absence with a silver lining







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