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Managing Absence


It seems that never a month goes by without an announcement for a National Awareness day for this or that. February is no exception with the first Monday in February being labelled as National Sickie day, as it has traditionally been the highest day for employee absenteeism. This was no doubt compounded by other events such as perhaps a hangover after Dry January, celebrating the Six Nations kick off or the Super Bowl or simply over indulgence of the first post-Christmas payday. 

Employee absenteeism costs UK businesses billions of pounds a year. It is estimated that for private sector employees, for the year 2015, this cost employers on average £416.74 per employee. It can be disruptive to your business and difficult to address particularly if you lose a key worker.  We have in this newsletter produced some guidelines as to how you can effectively manage absence in the workplace.

The most common causes for absence ranges from musculoskeletal problems such as strains and injuries to bones, muscles and joints; vomiting and diarrhoea; stress-related illnesses; colds and flu; food poisoning and other gastric problems; other viral infections to name but a few.

It is important to have a sickness policy that is comprehensive and easy to understand.  The policy should outline details on your processes and procedures such as when an employee is entitled to be absent from the workplace; what time an employee must inform their line manager that they are going to be absence and where employees can go for support. 

So that employees are less able to abuse absenteeism, you should act on day one.  You should identify the reason for the sickness absence and also establish how long it is anticipated that the employee will be off.  This will enable you to consider any workload issues that may need to be addressed to ensure business continuity.

Monitoring sickness absence is key as one in three sick day trends fall on a Monday and more days are lost to sickness absence in January than any other month.  Trends often emerge amongst absent employees and working practices, times of opening (and closing) and commercial deadlines can all play a part in sickness absence rather than the illness itself.  Keeping records and the reasons for sickness absence will enable you to identify trends and will give you the tools to be in a position to address sickness absences.

If the period of sickness absences extends past week three, this trigger point catches cases that are likely to be long-term.   If an employee is off for this length of time, discussions should focus positively on when the employee is likely to return to work.  If the case is serious, employers should consider whether it is appropriate to involve occupation health professionals or to seek guidance from the employee’s GP as to the likelihood of the employee returning to work in their former capacity.   Early intervention is key – the sooner action is taken the better the chances are that an employee can make a speedy recovery and return to work.

Keeping in contact with an employee who is absent from work can sometimes be a sensitive matter as an employee may see it as being a means to being pressurise to return to work.  Equally, those who are not contacted during their period of sickness absence, may feel undervalued and the longer the period of sickness absence continues, they may feel “out of touch”.  It is important to strike the balance and know when to contact an employee and when not to. 

If an employee is off for a minor illness and is likely to return to work within seven days, it is not necessary to have further contact with the employee.   In cases of sudden illness or a traumatic injury, employers should use discretion until the longer prognosis is known.   If an employee is suffering from stress related illnesses, it is important to make contact within a week, however, it is unlikely that the employee will be ready to discuss a return to work at this state and employers should use discretion until the longer-term prognosis is know.  Click here to see some Do’s and Don’ts on when and how to contact you staff when they are absent from work. 

We have also produced some guidance notes on how you can effectively manage sickness absence in the workplace which can be found here

If you are unsure as to how to manage absences in your workplace, HR:4UK can advise you as to what tests need to be applied to determine legal status.

For further help and advice, speak to one of our advisors by calling 01455 444222 or complete our online enquiry click hereand an advisor will contact you shortly.

Angela Clay

A qualified employment law solicitor and our managing director, Angela has unparalleled legal expertise and decades of experience and knowledge to draw from. She’s a passionate speaker and writer that loves to keep employers updated with upcoming changes to legislation, and is a regular guest speaker on BBC Leicester Radio.