All present and correct? Effective absence management

Employee absence is a significant cost for many organisations, yet data suggests that only a third of employers monitor the figures.

According to the CBI, absence management annually costs UK employers around £19.9 billion, taking into account direct and indirect costs, making it a vital issue not to be ignored.

Mark Serby, employment solicitor at Wake Smith, looks at the key steps in proactively managing employee absence.

“Obviously, people are off sick from time to time. Most staff feel bad about letting down their colleagues and most employers are reasonably sympathetic about their staff's welfare.

“But absence because of sickness, or another unexpected reason, can place a business in a tricky situation, particularly if there are no policies in place for dealing with it. It can also have a negative effect on the employees who are at work.

“Effective absence management aims to support the needs of employees, while offering consistent and clear guidance to avoid unauthorised absence or inappropriate use of sick pay schemes.

“Knowing why staff are off, when they will come back and how you will work with them when they are back is crucial.

“Sickness absence can be caused by a mixture of an employee's general physical condition; working conditions including health and safety standards, levels of stress, and harassment and bullying; family or emotional problems, or mental health issues other than stress.

“In order to manage sickness absence issues, it is important to understand the extent of the problem. Employers should distinguish between lateness, short-term absences and long-term absences.

“First look at the levels, causes and reasons for absence by carefully monitoring trends in the particular workplace.

“Keep records with accurate information and statistics to fully understand the pattern and reasons for absences.

“Discuss any particular problems with the employees concerned. The use of return-to-work interviews with line management and self certification forms, even for one day of absence, can help this.  Positive reinforcement can boost attendance.

“Authorise reasonable absences to cover medical appointments, including antenatal care. All pregnant employees, regardless of service, are entitled to reasonable, paid time-off for ante-natal care.

“If the absence continues then requesting a medical report can establish if there is any underlying medical condition to support the level of absence.  Working with employees in connection with GPs' advice can help the employee get back to work where appropriate. Counselling may also help.

“If there are no good medical reasons for the absences, the employee should be counselled and told what improvement is expected and warned what the consequences will be if none is seen.

“If there are reasons to suspect an employee’s grounds for the absence are not genuine, investigate carefully. You can discuss and pursue formal disciplinary action, including written warnings and compliance within the organisation’s own codes of practice on disciplinary and grievance procedures.

“Medical reasons, including hospital and treatment, may need consideration of the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 and an employer to make reasonable adjustments to allow time off for treatment.

To summarise, the following factors will help when looking at employee absenteeism: 

  • Pro-active manager led absence record-keeping systems, procedures and policies
  • Good physical working conditions
  • High health, safety and welfare standards
  • Pro-active measures to support staff
  • Training and teamwork
  • Providing facts and figures on absence to line managers. 
  • Enforcement of policies on equal opportunities and discrimination
  • Work-life balance policies including flexible working hours and varied working arrangements

“Making sure your staff are well, happy and working effectively is largely a matter of doing the right thing and using common sense.

“Where the absence consists of lateness or short but persistent and apparently unconnected absences then, after suitable investigation, disciplinary action may be appropriate.”

Wake Smith’s specialist employment law solicitors are highly experienced in dealing with these issues and can give clear, practical and commercial advice on the most efficient and cost-effective ways of dealing with absenteeism.

Wake Smith and Brewster Pratap will be holding a HR Forum on absence management on Wednesday March 14 from 12pm to 2pm, at AMP Technology Centre in Rotherham. Click here to view the invitation.

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