Absenteeism

Absenteeism comes in many forms, from frequent short-term absences to long-term sickness and issues of medical capability. All can put a strain on your workforce and prevent your business from reaching its full potential.

While absence management may appear a relatively straightforward exercise, it’s important to follow the correct process, and quickly, as getting it wrong or letting issues linger can greatly impact your bottom line.

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No business is immune to absences. From policy creation to pragmatic advice, take a proactive and confident approach to absence management with our full range of Employment Law and HR solutions.

Whether you’re bogged down in these low-level issues or facing a particularly tricky situation, our experts can help you deal with bogus absences, long-standing conditions that may be disability-related, and everything in between.

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Guide to Sickness and Absence

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When it comes to sickness absence, it’s important to get a handle on it early. Our comprehensive support will enable you to tackle any scenario and ensure operational and service levels are maintained.

With ongoing advice and support from your small team of legally-qualified specialists, you can get guidance and clarity on all your employee hurdles, including your obligations in relation to disability discrimination, adjusting procedures and absence trigger points to maximise attendance, and any resulting disciplinary issues.

Plus, if you’re not confident going it alone or facing a particular complex issue, our seasoned HR Consultants can conduct welfare and medical capability meetings for you – or manage the full process – for complete peace of mind.

A costly problem

According to the CIPD, the annual cost of employee absence to British businesses is around £554 per employee per year.

Popular FAQs

Common absence management queries, answered by our Employment Law and HR specialists.

Can employers terminate employment for sick absence?

While occasional sickness absence is normal, some employees may call in sick far more than you’d expect of your average person. In these situations, you should refer to your sickness absence policy, which should set benchmarks, known as trigger points, for unacceptable levels of short and frequent sickness absence. These should be reasonable and using the Bradford Factor formula will help you to determine when short-term absence levels have become excessive. Your sickness absence policy should also establish what actions will be taken once those triggers have been met.

How long is long-term sickness absence?

There is no hard and fast rule about this. Each case will turn on its facts considering, in particular the nature of the employee’s condition, whether it amounts to a disability and how long it is likely to last for. Medical evidence will always be key in answering these questions and when considering how to deal with people off on long-term sick.

How can sickness absence be monitored?

Monitoring and recording employees’ absences and the reason for it can prove useful in uncovering trends or patterns. For example, you may notice that an employee’s absences coincide with certain events, or that certain individuals seem to follow a particular pattern of taking Fridays and Mondays off sick. Equally, you may notice that employees who carry out particular tasks are often absent for similar reasons, for example back pain, or that employees who are taking frequent short-term absences have challenging deadlines and intense workloads. Spotting these trends will point you in the right direction and should enable you to rectify the problem. The best way to monitor sickness absence is by holding return to work interviews once the employee is back at work to ask why the employee was off, consider any adjustments to prevent future absence, and spot patterns in behaviour. In addition, it may help to use HR software to log and monitor absences and run MI reports.

Can you provide MI?

Yes. For organisations with larger case volumes that want to get to the bottom of their sickness absence issues, we can produce MI reports to uncover absence hotspots, then work with you consider root causes and agree a plan of action.

Can you help us to produce the documentation we need?

Yes. If you’re time-poor, or perhaps feel out of your depth producing more complicated documentation, our fixed-fee Employment Law and HR support includes bespoke document drafting from your employment documents, from correspondence with employees to letters to medical practitioners.

Can employers ask about sickness absence?

As a general principle, it is not permissible for an employer to ask a job applicant any questions about their health or disability until they have been offered a job. It is also not advisable to ask someone how many sick days they took in their last role. In very specific circumstances, you can ask before offer stage.
However, it is permissible and advisable to hold return to work meetings with employees after they return from sickness absence for the reasons highlighted above. Whilst there is nothing to force an employee to give detailed reasons as to why they were off, it is in the best interests of both parties that there is a degree of honesty. If the employee has an underlying condition affecting absence, it is advisable to tell their employer about it. That will allow them to make any reasonable adjustments to accommodate it.

How should I address absenteeism with an employee?

You should always hold a return to work meeting after every instance of absence. This is best practice as it will enable you to understand the reason for the absence, address any health concerns and look at ways to accommodate any underlying illness. Holding a return to work meeting can also discourage future absences. You should ensure that you follow any absence procedure as set out in your Employee Handbook. That will usually explain what steps to take once a certain number of absences are reached.

What should I include in a letter inviting an employee to a meeting to discuss absenteeism?

The letter should contain all the information you wish to rely on during the hearing, so perhaps a copy of the employee’s attendance record, copy of doctors’ notes and/or other medical evidence, and copies of the minutes from return to work meetings. The letter should also state the possible outcome of the meeting, for example a first written warning for poor attendance.

Is sickness an unauthorised absence?

Unauthorised absences are absences that employees do not have a contractual right or the employer’s permission to take. While staff should stay at home if they are sick, it is reasonable to expect employees to notify their employer at their earliest convenience if they will not be able to attend work. This will typically be laid out within the employer’s sickness absence policy.
In this way, while an employee is within their rights not to work when they are ill, if they fail to inform their employer in the way outlined in the policy, this may qualify as an unauthorised absence and may lead to disciplinary action.

What is the process of a disciplinary for sickness?

Technically, employees with poor attendance records would not be disciplined. They would be subject to a formal absence management process with meetings convened as and when trigger points are hit. Please note that it will never be fair to dismiss someone with over two years’ service for persistent poor attendance without going through the full range of warnings first. Any warning should be issued following a fair procedure and should be accompanied by a timescale and suggestions for improvement, together with details of the action the employer will take if there is no improvement within the specified timescale.

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