High levels of short-term sickness absence negatively impact management workload, company performance and team motivation. Effective management of absences is therefore crucial for businesses to thrive. We outline the main considerations for employers.
Establish a policy
A clear policy for employees defining both expected attendance standards and reporting obligations in the event of absence is essential. The role of managers in applying the policy must also be clearly defined. Non-illness policies, with provisions for time off requests, should be reported and disseminated alongside the sick leave policy. It is important that the correct policy is used and that “sickness” is not a catch-all for all types of absence. If absences are not correctly recorded, they cannot be correctly managed!
Be proactive, not reactive
Employers shouldn’t wait until absences reach a problematic level before taking action – return-to-work interviews and regular updates are useful tools that should be used to manage absences before a problem arises. For example, when an employee has been absent, a brief return-to-work interview can both help an employer understand the reasons for the employee’s absence and make them understand that the absence is not. gone unnoticed. In some cases, the fact that the absence is acknowledged can make an employee feel more valued because the time has been taken to “check in”. In other cases, the fact that the absence has been corrected may cause an employee to think twice before calling in sick after a particularly “heavy” weekend! Forcing an employee to provide regular updates (if any) can also have similar effects.
Follow a process for problematic absences
When an employee has a high level of short-term absence, action should be taken to address it. Generally speaking, this will involve the following (please note that specific issues are covered later in this article):
- Have a meeting with the employee to inform them that if their absence level does not improve, a formal process should be initiated. Although this initial meeting is not usually part of the formal absence management process, it should still be documented.
- Invite the employee to a formal meeting to discuss their absence level (assuming absence levels have not improved). An employer will need to consider whether it is appropriate to give the employee an initial written warning. Depending on the circumstances, it may be appropriate to obtain medical evidence at this point to see if there is an underlying health problem (see below). If a warning is given, it should be confirmed in writing and clear attendance goals (including a review period) should be set so that the employee knows what is expected of them and the consequences of doing so. a lack of improvement.
- If the employee’s absence levels still do not improve and they do not meet the attendance goals set when there is no underlying condition, a second meeting should be scheduled. Again, one will have to consider whether medical evidence is required and whether it is appropriate to give the employee a written warning (an employer would normally consider a final written warning at this point). As above, if a warning is given it should be confirmed in writing and clear attendance goals should be set (including a review period) so the employee knows what is expected of them .
- If the employee continues to fall below the required attendance levels, another meeting should be scheduled to discuss the issues with the employee. At this point, it is likely that an employer will want to consider whether it would be reasonable to terminate the employee under the circumstances.
When an employee does not have two years of service, an employer may decide to shorten their formal process for handling absences. However, before an employer does so, they will need to ensure that they have assessed whether there are other areas of risk, for example those detailed below.
Be aware of the potential risks
When an employee has a lot of short-term absences, employers should be aware of potential risk areas, for example:
- Does the employee’s absence record indicate that they have an underlying medical condition? If so, could this condition constitute a handicap within the meaning of the 2010 Equality Act? If the employee is disabled, reasonable adjustments may be necessary and it may be necessary for the employer to see a doctor. If an employer blindly follows their absence management process in relation to an employee with a disability, they are likely to face a disability discrimination complaint.
- Is the employee pregnant? Employees are protected against adverse treatment resulting from pregnancy-related illnesses. To discipline a pregnant employee for pregnancy-related absences would constitute unlawful discrimination in matters of pregnancy and maternity.
- Is there a contractual procedure to follow? Although contract procedures are rare, if an employer has a contract sickness absence policy, it should be followed to avoid the possibility of a breach of contract claim.
Think about how to engage
It is up to the employer to set the tone for the process. If an employer leads with sympathy and aims to help employees get back to work, it helps create a positive work environment in which colleagues are motivated to perform at their best.
It is important that managing sick leave is not a box-ticking exercise, as this is unlikely to engage employees and can also mean that underlying issues go under the radar. A supportive culture is more likely to allow for open, honest, and constructive conversations.
Our Shoosmiths Academy course on Sick Absence Management can provide you with in-depth critical information on legally compliant sick leave procedures and practical advice on managing typical complexities. Click here for more information.