How to manage stress related absences Q&A

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When an employee’s GP signs them off work because of stress, it can be tricky for employers to know the right way of handling the situation.

Employers may have concerns about the impact of an increased workload on other employees, or if the employee signed off is suffering stress due to work.

Knowing how much to ask the employee about their stress levels and mental health without seeming to pry or make the employee feel uncomfortable can also be challenging.

It is also important for an employer to have as much information about the anticipated return to work and any changes that the employee might request to help them return. 

In this blog we look at the above questions and assist managers with this type of sickness absence.

Q. How often should I contact the employee who is signed off with stress?

A. To put your mind at ease, there’s no legal issue with contacting your employee while they’re off work. In fact, you should keep checking in with them.

This doesn’t mean you have to contact them multiple times a day without warning, as this could overwhelm them. But you should decide with your employee how regularly you should be in contact, depending on their specific circumstances.

You should also decide how you’re going to contact them i.e. via phone or email, and decide on who the employee’s contact should be. It might be their line manager or a HR manager.

Q. How can I get more information from the employee so that I can help them, but without appearing to pry?

A. While your employee has a right to take time off for stress and ill-health, it’s up to you to investigate why they’re absent, and any factors in your workplace that might be contributing to the stress.

Your employee might be dealing with something that’s very sensitive or personal to them. But, you don’t need to delve into what they’re actually dealing with, unless it’s work-related. If your employee’s absent from work because of a personal or mental health issue, that kind of support is better left to the experts. If you have an employee assistance programme (EAP), make sure you’ve directed them to it.

When you do reach out, try not to put any pressure on your employee to talk about what they’re experiencing. Let them share as much as they’re comfortable with sharing. It’s not easy to talk about mental health and your employee might worry their job is at risk because of it.

Find out how to support their recovery and help them return to work.  

If a medical professional has signed off your employee, your employee should provide you with a fit note that says whether they may or may not be fit for work.

If their fit note says they may be fit for work, you have an opportunity to discuss any changes that might help them return. It might be that you need to investigate changing or reducing their working hours, allowing them to work from home some days, or changing the responsibilities of their role.

Q. How to I get more information about the employees likely return date?

A. If your employee’s fit note says they’re not fit for work, it should also tell you how long they should be off work and whether they’ll be able to come back to work before the fit note expires. If the employee is still not fit for work when the fit note expires, their doctor can issue them a new one if necessary.

You should never put any pressure on your employee to return to work before they’re ready to do so. You also shouldn’t ask them to take on any work-related tasks while they’re off.

And while you may want to know when your employee’s coming back to work, there’s no set amount of time someone can be off with stress. It depends on the nature of their job, the resources you have, and your policies for managing long-term sickness.

It’s also worth noting that if your employee is off work for more than four days and they earn at least the lower earnings limit (which is currently £123), they’re also entitled to statutory sick pay (SSP) as a minimum. That’s if you don’t set your own company sick pay. They can get SSP for up to 28 weeks.

Q. How to I help the rest of the team to prevent them getting work related stress

A. If you think that work is overwhelming your staff, it may help to go away and carry out a stress risk assessment. This will help you find any potential stressors in your workplace. Once you can pinpoint the issues, you can take steps to tackle them.

Sometimes, workplace stress can be a sign of a wider issue. If you’re worried about your workers disconnecting, discover HR tips for getting them back on track.

If staff burnout is common in your line of work or your staff seem to struggle with stress, it might be time to review your workplace. Making changes to someone’s working routine or environment can make a huge difference to their wellbeing.

And if you need more advice on how to do that, please give us a call and we’d be happy to help.

For more information or help with Stress Related Absence or any other HR issue 

Harwood HR – HR Consultants providing HR Consultancy and
HR Outsourced Services.  We provide clear, cost effective HR advice. For a
free consultation, please contact us on:

0117 439 0119 or

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