Guide to Managing Absence in the Workplace

Be sensitive but always in touch with absent staff

Long and short-term sickness is still a major concern for many businesses today and can also be very costly to an organisation. Although staff absence is said to be on the decrease due to the fear of redundancy, it still remains one of the top concerns for many managers.

The following guide will give you an insight into how to deal with absence and suggestions on how to deal with an employee who consistently reports in sick – and how absence management software can help to put in place an effective absence management policy.

Be sensitive but always stay in touch with absent staff

It can be worrying to contact a member of staff who is off sick. However, as long as contact is done in a sensitive manner there should be no need for concern. Contact whether by phone or email shows that you ‘care’ about their well-being and helps to keep the staff member engaged with work. Sickness can make employees feel isolated and even make them feel scared of returning to work. Be careful though when a medical report states that the employee should not be contacted. Making contact with sick staff and how to deal with them should be part of an employer’s absence management policy.

Analyse reasons for absence

Is there a pattern to a particular employee’s absence? Does it occur on a Monday, when something in particular needs to be done on that day at work, or are they renowned for being particularly social at the weekend? Analysing absence is very important; it helps to build a picture up of an employee’s pattern of sickness. Of course long-term sickness is usually clear, it is easy to see that the absence is genuine when there has been the need to be in hospital or the employee has broken an arm or a leg! Short-term frequent absences though are often hard to manage, and can also be very annoying too for other members of staff who may have picked up on the pattern of recurring absences. Absence management software enables managers to spot this type of pattern early and take appropriate action with the person concerned. As well as preventing losses to the business, it also demonstrates to all employees that the absence policy is being adhered to fairly, helping to prevent any problems with staff morale.

Keep accurate records

It is vitally important to keep accurate and up to date absence records, whether this is for short-term or long-term illness. A good paper trail 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.

Return to work interviews

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 could uncover issues that you were not aware of, for example bullying in the workplace, stress or an underlying illness. The interview could also establish whether there is the need for further investigations including disciplinary action. Return to work interviews can also sometimes change an employee’s behaviour, the interview may make them feel ‘guilty’ or make them reflect on their absence, was it really necessary to be off work and how it affected other team members.

Request 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 employee’s working environment which may help them to return to work in the first instance.

Discuss medical evidence with the employee

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 meeting in the employee’s home if they feel more comfortable with that option.

Short-term illness is very often best being dealt with in the workplace, and discussions should take place around how you as the employer can help them.

In relation to long-term illness, the employer has 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 whether there is anything that can be done to help their return to work.

Stress and how to address it

Stress is a huge problem in the workplace. If a medical report refers to stress and anxiety the employer should investigate the cause of the stress and then manage an agreed return to work taking into consideration what has come out of the interview. You could risk a claim being brought against you if you do not address the cause of stress. For example if the employee has told you that they are being bullied and that this was the cause of their stress, and then you chose to ignore this, the stress related problem could then turn into depression, and depression is covered under the Disability Discrimination Act as it is classed as a disability.

Dealing with a disability and making adjustments in the workplace

Under the Disability Discrimination Act the employer has a duty of care to make reasonable adjustments for a disabled employee. This could also cover an employee who has been on a long-term absence and requires assistance or adjustments to enable them to return to work. Adjustments can be broad from changing working times and hours worked, making changes to duties to modifying equipment including adaptations to premises. Any adjustments to the person’s work or job description and any adaptations required to perform their work, should always be discussed with the employee.

Short-term absence disciplinary warnings

Disciplinary warnings are a good tool to help improve an employee’s attendance that repeatedly has a history of short-term absences. Firstly, the employee should be informed that disciplinary action will be put in place if improvements are not made, make sure you put in place targets and timescales for the attendance to improve. If an employee has blatantly breached reporting procedures, had no reason to be off or lied about their absence, disciplinary procedures can be considered straight away.

If the short-term absence is due to an underlying medical condition it is advisable to make reasonable and fair adjustments to help the employee, but the situation should still be monitored and reviewed.

When dismissal should be considered

Dismissal should be considered when:

An employee on long-term absence shows no signs of returning to work and you as the employer have done everything to help the employee return to work. This may have been through making reasonable adjustments to their job description or their working environment. Disability on capability grounds can then be considered.

An employee on short-term absence has a series of warnings and the situation does not improve. Dismissal on grounds of performance and conduct can be considered here.

It is always advisable to take advice from a professional in such cases and to make sure that all guidelines and procedures have been followed.

How IRIS FMP Amity can help

IRIS FMP Amity HR Software includes absence recording functionality to reduce the administrative burden of employee absence. Our software allows many different types of absence information to be recorded, collated and analysed, so that staff can report and respond to absence levels if they become unacceptable.

Absence Management Software – Contact us today for further information.