Absenteeism is a particularly difficult problem to tackle, because there are both legitimate and poor excuses for missing work – and it can be challenging for employers to effectively monitor, control and reduce absenteeism.
To approach absenteeism effectively, it is important to establish a solution that lets you detect and address the situation early to avoid short-term absenteeism becoming a long term issue. Below we look at some main points to consider.
Ensure you have a clear Absence Management Policy in place
Your company policy should be easy to understand and not open to varying interpretations. It should outline details including the employer’s expectations and approach to employee absence, both short and long term, as well as the employee’s obligation in complying with the policy when notifying the relevant parties of potential absence from work.
The policy should also include the possible consequences of failure to comply and if the matter is to be treated as a disciplinary. Sick pay entitlements should also be well defined. It has been proven that back to work interviews with managers can be helpful in managing absence.
It is important to note that employers be mindful how they treat employees in accordance with the policy. Absence management does not have a one size fits all policy in every case, however it is advised to be consistent in one’s approach, as if a situation was to escalate and result in a claim, the policy could be examined by a third party.
Enforce and Manage the Absence Policy
You may have an Absence Management Policy in place but it is just as important to ensure this is enforced within the workplace. More than half of employed adults believe their work performance is negatively impacted when attendance policies are not fairly enforced. When managing short-term absence you need to consider the following interventions:
· Review of individual attendance
· Return-to-work interviews
· Involving line managers and occupational health professionals
· Restricting sick pay
· Disciplinary procedures for unacceptable levels of absence
When managing long-term absence it is vital that you have a formal strategy in place to encourage and support employees to get back to work after a prolonged period of absence. You should consider the following:
· For serious long-term absence, obtain Access to Medical Records from employees’ Medical Advisor to assess ways in which the company can assist in the return to work
· Return-to-work interviews
· Changes to work patterns and environment
· Rehabilitation programmes
· Occupational health environment
· Line management involvement
· Restricting sick pay
Act on Day One
Managing absenteeism should begin on the first day that an employee is not present in the workplace. Check the facts surrounding the absence and address any resulting workload issues to ensure business continues. Line managers should highlight services available to support the employee, such as health insurance policies, company doctor services or an employee assistance programme. Ensure your line managers are fully supported and have the relevant training to guarantee they keep within the employment legal framework.
Trends often emerge among absent employees and it’s common that working practices, times of opening and commercial deadlines play a part, rather than illness itself. Ensuring you record reasons for absence will enable you to identify trends in the workplace to help avoid future absentee cases.
When collecting data to document the various reasons for absence, you are best to make sure that simple but meaningful categories are used. For example:
· Short-term or acute medical conditions (cold, influenza, etc)
· Musculo-skeletal injuries
· Long-term or chronic illness
Return to Work Interviews
Informal meetings between a line manager and employee on the day the employee returns to work are consistently rated as one of the most effective methods of managing absenteeism. This is important to determine the cause of absenteeism irrespective of the reason given for the absence when the employee phoned in sick.
During the course of the interview it is imperative not to judge an employee’s illness, whether physical or mental or add misconduct or performance issues to the discussion. If the absenteeism is related to a genuine illness, follow up any matters that emerge, such as investigating reasonable adjustments whether or not these are triggered by comments from the GP on the medical certificate.
If there are doubts concerning the reason of absenteeism, consult absenteeism trends and informally counsel the employee on their past record, unless the latest absence triggers a formal review under the absence policy, in which case you should explain to the employee that you will be invoking that procedure.
There are many factors to be considered by an employer in relation to managing employees who are absent from the workplace. Such management can be challenging within the confines of the law and so it is imperative to have a clear policy in place and communicated to employees to assist in an employer maintaining a robust defence in the event of any claim being taken against them.
The contents of this article are necessarily expressed in broad terms and limited to general information rather than detailed analyses or legal advice. Specialist professional advice should always be obtained to address legal and other issues arising in specific contexts.