Absence Management

How should an Employer react when faced with frequent and persistent absences from work by one particular employee?  I am thinking here of a scenario of an employee who regularly fails to attend on a Monday morning after possibly “overdoing it” at the weekend.

Regular and persistent absences from work by an individual employee can have a damaging effect on the morale, productivity, and efficiency of their team/colleagues.

It shouldn’t be forgotten the impact that the regular “ill health” has on other individuals within their team. They can feel “put upon” and upset with having to regularly cover a colleague’s workload.

Employers have a legitimate interest and a duty of care to actively manage their employees to reduce absence levels and ensure an acceptable level of attendance that benefits the entire workforce.  As with many employment problems early intervention may well be the key.  An early intervention can prevent a demoralised team.

If the attendance issues cannot (for whatever reason) be resolved informally then it would clearly help to have an Absence Management Policy.  The existence of a formal Absence Management Policy should ensure consistency and should give any managers the confidence to tackle these issues in an early and proactive way.

An Absence Management Policy should include:

  • When and how employees provide notification of any absence (to whom and by what time?);
  • What levels of short-term absence will attract further scrutiny;
  • What levels of persistent and regular absence will attract further scrutiny;
  • Provide guidance that differentiates short-term frequent and persistent absences from long-term absences;
  • Guidance on return to work procedure (what can the employer do?);
  • Provisions for the use of medical reports; and
  • Rules regarding pay during absence – to include potentially the ability to withhold contractual sick pay when correct reporting procedures are not followed. (should any discretionary pay be automatically withheld?)

Employers may well have in place an absence procedure which will be triggered once a certain number of absences have occurred over a set period.  If this is going to be utilised then Employers should ensure that they have a robust and well-known procedure to ensure that there are no allegations of favouritism.

If it becomes apparent having monitored absences that if an employee is facing a potential disciplinary issue for continued persistence and frequent absences that they are informally warned about this as it may encourage them to review their current behaviour and improve attendance.

It should be applied consistently to all employees.

Disciplinary matter or capability issue?

The Absence Management Policy should identify the process that is to be applied when a problem is identified.  The answer will very much depend on whether the Employer considers the absence genuine.  (Social Media can offer a useful insight on this both for actions pre-absence and monitoring any activity when off sick).

An employee who is suspected of falsifying their absence would properly attract the attention of a disciplinary procedure whereas an employee with an ongoing condition (supported by medical notes and correspondence) should be treated more sympathetically.

If you as an Employer find yourself faced with these problems, you could benefit from an informal discussion, then contact either Paul Beck or Rory Nelson on 0151 231 6620.

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