Conflict and sickness absence UT

Conflict and sickness absence UT

Labour conflict situations and sickness absence explanation for managers


A labour conflict exists when a person or group of persons feels frustrated or thwarted by another person or group of person within a labour organization.

The feeling may relate to the content of the work, employment relationships, working conditions or the terms of employment.

Manager’s role

The manager is to ensure a safe and agreeable working environment. The manager has two tasks in this respect: bringing conflicts between staff members up for discussion and encouraging the parties to come to a solution (themselves), and to not ignore any conflicts relating to the (style of) management itself. It requires courage to acknowledge the conflict situation and one’s own role therein. In such a case, the manager can best seek advice and support, for instance from a P&O advisor.

Conflict situations and sickness absence

When possible, the manager will point out that a labour conflict should not result in staff members calling in sick and may propose an intervention period (‘time-out’). Intervention periods should not become the rule: they are exceptional and are called for specifically in those cases where strong emotions appear to be standing in the way of proper contact between the staff member and manager. At least one meeting is to take place within the intervention period. During the intervention period, measures should be taken to come to a solution. At the very least, an intervention plan is to be drawn up. Should a staff member still report sick in response to the labour conflict, the company doctor should be called in to assess the situation, preferably within 48 hours.

Sometimes, the situation has gotten out of control to such an extent that the staff member calling in sick suffers from strong emotions and physical complaints like fatigue, headaches and trouble sleeping. Such complaints are, in fact, the body’s response to the conflict situation, and this does not necessarily mean the person involved is actually ‘ill’ or incapacitated for work.

The company doctor therefore in particular assesses whether the staff member suffers from any medical conditions rendering them unable to do their job, and lays down their opinion in writing.

In conclusion

When assessing a conflict situation, look at the facts and disregard the emotions.

If necessary, call in a mediator at an early stage. This will help restore the balance of power between the parties. However, the guiding principle is that the parties are expected to first discuss the problems with each other, possibly turning to the HR manager for help.