How healthy are your staff?? Is your sick pay policy fair? How much is absence and sickness costing your business? Julia Feuell looks at the topic of staff sickness. 

People are going to be off sick from time to time. Most employees feel bad about letting down their colleagues and most employers are reasonably sympathetic about their staff's welfare. 

But absence because of sickness, or another unexpected reason, can put your business in a tricky situation, particularly if you have no policies in place for dealing with it.


You need to know why staff are off, when they will come back and how you will deal with:

  1. short-term sickness absence which lasts less than a week
  2. repeated short-term sickness absences which may follow a pattern
  3. long-term sickness absence lasting several weeks or more
  4. Unauthorized absence for other reasons.

Sickness absence can be caused by a mixture of:

  1. an employee's general physical condition
  2. working conditions including health and safety standards, levels of stress, and harassment and bullying
  3. family or emotional problems, or mental health issues other than stress.


Whilst coughs and colds and various other ailments effect your staff around the year, the Employment Rights Act 1996 also entitles your staff to take time off for dependents. This time off can be to look after any family member – child, mother, sick Aunt but it also extends to dependents – the old lady next door who has no family. 

Employees are entitled to reasonable time off unpaid to care for their dependents or to make arrangements for their care. However the legislation doesn’t define ‘reasonable’. Various tribunal hearings are testing the ‘reasonable’ time off part. It would appear that if the problem is an emergency or sudden problem, time off must be granted. However, if the problem is recurring or ongoing, you have a right to refuse and ask the individual to take holiday instead.


  1. Be careful not to pay sickness at the discretion of the company. Employment law has moved on a great deal and you will risk being possibly ‘unfair’ or ‘discriminatory’ to your cost.
  2. Consider introducing a sick pay scheme that rewards health. New Frontiers have ‘duvet days’, which can be redeemed at the end of the year as a health bonus if unused.
  3. Build a ‘health conscious’ workforce. Create a ‘health board’ with information about the nearest Gym, evening classes, health write-ups etc.
  4. Consider re-looking at your benefits package. Offer gym membership, alternative health treatments – such as reflexology, osteopathy etc.
  5. Sponsor staff football teams or local sports teams, which members of staff belong to. Organize healthy events. Challenge your competitors to five-a-side.
  6. Lead by example.. everyone will look to you.
  7. Get everyone doing Tai Chi at work. I’d do this if we had the space. It’s an amazing stress relieving, health beneficial exercise.

There are some legal issues to take into account, but making sure your staff are well, happy and working effectively is largely a matter of doing the right thing and using common sense.

Jose joined New Frontiers in 2000 working a variety of roles from recruitment consultant to in-house recruiter and staff trainer and now General Manager. Jose has a wealth of travel industry experience having worked in travel for 8 years prior to joining New Frontiers with roles in retail and for a tour operator.