Are you accustomed to a flurry of sick leave notes landing on your desk around the festive season?

This is no coincidence, and although some workers will be genuinely struck down with winter flu, others will be suffering the effects of a Christmas night out or need time for some last-minute shopping.

Whatever the reason, bosses should be prepared for the likely occurrence of sick days around this period. With Christmas fast approaching, we’ve put together a few ways of dealing with this predicament.

gift wrap presents computer

Legal Rights

As an employer, you should be up to speed with the legalities surrounding sick leave. It’s also viable to draft bespoke company policy on this issue. Professional advice should be sought in relation to this, however.

Either way, employees must provide a doctor’s ‘fit’ note (commonly referred to as a sick note) if they’re absent for more than seven days in a row, including non-working days. Remember that workers will accumulate holiday entitlement as normal during their sick leave.

Also bear in mind that employees are entitled to raise an employment tribunal if they feel they’ve been treated unfairly. Do everything by the book to avoid this eventuality.

employment tribunal, gavel

Initial Steps

A GP can declare that your employee ‘may be fit for work’. If this is the case, you can take measures to help them return, such as reducing working hours or amending their daily tasks.  

You should also assess whether workplace conditions have contributed to your employees’ ill-health. For example, a lack of sufficient heating or ventilation can contribute to sick building syndrome, whilst inept office chairs can lead to a bad back.

A winter flu bug could also be going around the office. If you’re worried about this, quarantine sick individuals away from the main group or enforce a few days absence.

The government’s ‘Fit for Work’ programme is designed to help employees stay fit and healthy. It offers general health advice and an occupational health assessment of your workplace. In-house exercise and increased rest periods for active staff are advised.

Another preventative measure is to offer an incentive scheme for high attendance. This will maintain staff enthusiasm during the crucial festive period.

doctor, stethoscope, pens

Coping with Sick Leave

Foreseeing ill-health can help you stay productive. Prepare to hire temporary workers or use zero-hour contracts to alleviate sick day losses.  

Another approach is to ensure the Christmas rush is dealt with beforehand. Offer overtime hours in the build-up, ensuring client enquiries and orders are managed as soon as possible. This will stop a damaging backlog when staff are more likely to be off sick.

You can also familiarise staff with other roles inside the company. This is in case they need to cover an absentee at the last minute. Like it or not, you may have to pitch in yourself as well.

All in all, the best way to deal with employees taking sick time during the festive season is to assemble a series of preventative measures. However, absentees around Christmas is such a common occurrence that contingency plans such as hiring temporary workers may still be required.

If you’d like to know more about your legal rights and responsibilities in relation to sick leave, this is something we can advise about at Neil Smith Accountancy.


If you found this useful, you may also be interested in 8 Tips for Keeping your Business Profitable During the Quiet Times.