Who’s thrown a sickie? Reducing absence in your business

24th October 2017

Dealing with staff absence sickness can be a real challenge for any business. It’s particularly bad if you don’t have the administration system or policies in place, no matter what your size.

CIPD’s 2016 absence management report  showed that a quarter of employers (25%) identified that line managers being given sickness absence information is one of the most effective approaches to manage short-term absence and 15% said this was true for managing long-term absence.  In 2016, a staggering 137.3 million working days were lost to sickness and injury according to the Office of National Statistics, costing employers £16 billion.

Using your HR Software to help manage absenteeism works best when combined with clear company policy and processes that are consistently applied across the business.


So, what should you do?

Set the scene

A clear absenteeism policy is critical, detailing how many and what type of absences are acceptable in a given period, the support on offer from the employer, and the potential consequences for not adhering to the policy. A good employee handbook should always be the reference point for employees. Good communication from the moment someone starts within in business is critical so your induction process should be robust.

Keep accurate HR records

It is vitally important to keep accurate and up to date absence records, whether this is for short-term or long-term illness. Good record keeping and absence tracking would be needed if there were ever the need to defend a Tribunal claim for unfair dismissal brought against you. Telephone calls, emails, conversations and return to work interviews should be well documented and can assist with decision making with regards to disciplinary action and possible reasons behind an employee’s frequent absence. Trends and reasons for absence can help HR people effectively plan and strategise for the future. HR systems that empower HR teams and line managers on the move are critical

How are you?

A return to work interview policy should be in every employer’s absence management manual. It is a crucial element to determine and manage short-term frequent absences. This type of interview can help to uncover issues that you were not aware of, for example bullying in the workplace, stress, or an underlying illness. The interview can also establish whether there is a need for further investigations including disciplinary action. Return to work interviews can also sometimes help to change an employee’s behaviour directly: the interview may make them feel ‘guilty’ or make them reflect on their absence, whether it was really necessary to be off work and how it affected other team members. It’s important to ensure that your managers are well trained and involved in the process, as they are the best people to manage absence amongst their direct reports.

Promote the things that keep your employees healthy

Your business should look to help as much as possible, no matter what your budget. It can start with fresh fruit replacing sweets and cakes in the office, to employee assistance schemes and occupational and mental health training and helplines, training on debt management and finance, or cycle to work schemes to improve fitness.

Requesting a medical report

Medical reports can by requested from an employee’s GP or a Consultant. In a larger organisation they can also be obtained from the company doctor or occupational health department. Of course you will need to obtain authorisation first from the employee to proceed with this under the Access to Medical Reports Act 1988. An employee will also have the right to read the report prior to it being sent to the employer.

The benefit of obtaining a medical report is fundamental in dealing with both short-term and long-term illness. It can establish whether the illness is work related, establish when they are likely to be fit to return to work and whether any adjustments should be made to the employees working environment which may help them to return to work in the first instance.

Send them home

Have you ever sat in your office next to someone who has struggled into work with the worst cold or flu ever! Apart from passing on all the germs it’s actually not good for their health or stress levels .

More serious issues

A face-to-face meeting with the employee to discuss any medical evidence found should be conducted as soon as possible. This can be in the workplace or in the employee’s home if they feel more comfortable with that option. Short-term illness is very often best dealt with in the workplace, and discussions should take place around how you as the employer can help them. A flexible approach to doctor or hospital appointments, time off and making up time, or short term

In relation to long-term illness, you have a duty of care to understand the full extent of the illness, discuss their progress and when they are likely to return to work, and to ascertain whether there is anything that can be done to help their return to work.

Managing Absence

Good absence management relies on having information at your fingertips. Find out how we can help.

Download Resource