When can I contact my employee?

Published June 30 2023

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It sounds like a simple question but it’s one that businesses can sometimes get tangled up in, particularly if it involves a situation that may not have arisen before.

Can I call my employee when they’re off work?

There can be many misconceptions about when you can (and can’t) contact an employee, so let’s tackle five scenarios you may encounter and put your business back in control.

  1. Employee goes ‘AWOL’
  2. Contacting an employee about work whilst they are off sick
  3. Managing long-term sickness absence
  4. Maternity / adoption leave
  5. Employee on annual leave


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What should I do if my employee goes ‘AWOL’?

If an employee hasn’t shown up for work, the absence is unauthorised and it’s for reasons unknown your initial instinct may be to try to contact the employee to find out what’s going on, but there can be some uncertainty as to whether this is ‘allowed’.

In this situation follow your instinct and try to contact your employee – make sure you keep a record of the steps you have taken in case further action becomes necessary.

Whilst it can be tempting to jump to conclusions before you’ve spoken to your employee, try to keep an open mind about why they haven’t attended work or contacted you about it. There could be a good reason for their actions, such as needing to exercise the right to take emergency dependent care leave.

If you are unsuccessful in contacting your employee, or you have made contact and feel that further action may be needed e.g. for failure to follow your business’s absence reporting procedure, get in touch for specific advice on your situation.

Want to know a little more about the ‘AWOL’ process to follow if there is no response from a badly behaved leaver.

Can I call my employee when they are off sick?

If an employee is off sick, you shouldn’t usually contact them during this time about their work and nor should they be carrying out work for you. This is the case whether they are self-certifying as unfit to work or have a medical certificate (‘fit-note’) to cover their time off.

If an employee is unfit to work, it’s important that they have the time and space needed to recuperate. Bear in mind that businesses are expected to act reasonably and appropriately towards employees who are off sick, and this includes in relation to making contact.

Helpful things to know:

  • Make sure you and your employees are familiar with your business’s policies and procedures when it comes to sickness absence, particularly regarding notification and certification. This can help to minimise disruption to the business and make sickness absence easier to manage. For example, businesses often require employees to inform their manager of any outstanding work that requires action as part of their sickness absence reporting procedure.
  • Depending on the situation, you may need to contact an employee whilst they are off sick as part of managing sickness absence in the workplace.

Common scenarios include:

  • An employee has been off sick for more than seven days and has failed to provide a medical certificate (or a medical certificate has expired and there has been no contact from the employee/no further medical certificate to cover the ongoing absence)
  • A fit not has stated that the employee may be fit for work if ‘adjustments’ are made e.g a phased return to work, and this needs to be addressed with the employee
  • The employee’s sick pay e.g SSP will soon come to an end
  • To appropriately keep in touch with your employee whilst they are away

If you are considering contacting an employee for any reason whilst they are off sick, it’s important you get advice on the facts of your situation before doing so. Get in touch if your business needs help.

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What are reasonable terms of contact when managing long-term sickness absence?

When facing a long-term sickness absence situation there can be occasions where businesses are unsure what is reasonable and appropriate in terms of contact with an employee or it can even be a case of out of sight out of mind.

This can lead to a scenario whereby an employee is away from the workplace without any communication for a considerable time – sometimes even years.

You don’t need us to tell you that this is a difficult situation for a business to be in – not least because it leaves you in the dark without the information needed to manage the situation or make important business decisions regarding the employee’s employment.

Valuable time can be lost and in many cases, the situation becomes more difficult to deal with than it otherwise would have been.

It isn’t usually the case that if an employee is on long-term sickness absence they can’t be contacted when it comes to managing the absence.

Rather, it’s that the contact needs to be appropriate and made at the right time and in the right way.

Managing a long-term sickness absence process can seem daunting, particularly if this isn’t something you have dealt with before, but it needn’t be as we are here to help.

So, what to do and when? If an employee is on long-term sickness absence (as a general rule of thumb that’s off sick for eight weeks or more) in most cases, a key initial step will be to arrange a preliminary welfare meeting with the employee to explore the reasons for their absence and the prospects of their return.

Depending on the nature of the employee’s illness it may be appropriate to offer to meet at the employee’s home or to make other adjustments.

What is said in this meeting will inform your next steps and what’s appropriate in the circumstances, for example whether the employee’ permission to obtain a medical report should be sought.

But first things first, before acting, get in touch for specific advice on the facts of your situation. Not only can we provide tailored advice and guidance on the long-term sickness absence process but we can also discuss commercial options and assist you with letters and other documents for use with your employee.

Can I contact an employee on Maternity leave?

You and your employee can make reasonable contact with each other during maternity/adoption leave.

The business needs to keep these employees informed of important matters such as promotion and development opportunities and proposed redundancies/restructures – it’s important that they are not forgotten about just because they are on maternity/adoption leave.

To ensure you strike the right balance between keeping in touch and allowing your employee to enjoy their leave in (relative!) peace, it’s important that you both agree on how contact will be maintained during this time. This will help you to ensure that the amount of contact you make is reasonable – you don’t want your employee feeling harassed whilst they are on leave.

If you wish, you can agree with your employee that they can do up to 10 days of work for you during their maternity/adoption leave period, these are what are known as Keeping in Touch (KIT) days.

They don’t bring your employee’s leave to an end, nor do they affect entitlement to any statutory pay during the leave period. The use of KIT days is voluntary for your business and your employee. It’s best to discuss KIT days with your employee before their leave starts. Interested in KIT days? Get in touch for full details.

Can I contact an employee on annual leave?

You shouldn’t usually contact an employee about their work whilst they are on annual leave as it is intended to be a period of rest and relaxation.

Ensuring appropriate procedures are in place, such as requiring employees to do a good handover to colleagues / their manager before they go will help things to run smoothly in the employee’s absence.

If you have an issue arise in your business, for example, an urgent redundancy situation, and you may need to contact an employee who is on annual leave it’s important to seek specific advice before acting. Remember we are here to help so get in touch.


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