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A Guide to Managing Staff Absence

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Regardless of the nature of an employee’s absence, be it sickness or another unexpected reason it can place a great deal of stress on your business, especially if you have no set policies in place to deal with absence. Dealing with a staff absence issue can be frustrating for both parties and requires a sensitive approach as the reasons for staff absence can be diverse.

Staff absence can stem from anything form an employee’s physical condition to working conditions (health and safety, harassment and bullying, stress) to family or mental health problems. It is important to take this range of possible causes into account and handle the situation in an appropriate manner.

Consider Your Duty of Care

Legally you are responsible for protecting the wellbeing of your employees whilst they are at work. Aside from the obvious health and safety elements to your duty of care there are other considerations such as:

  • Emotional Pressures – are your employees suffering from emotional stress due to poor work relationships, too much work or too little control over their own work?
  • Occupational Health – reducing the impact that work has on your employees health as much as possible could help them return to work sooner.

Try considering your own duty of care before approaching an employee to deal with an absence issue.

Short Term Sickness

In the case of most illnesses they will last between a day and two weeks, these are short-term illnesses. If your employees are not coming into work for a short-term sickness they should follow this process:

  • Speak to the manager as early as possible. For most employers an employee would be expected to notify them of the nature of the illness and when would be a likely return date within an hour of the employees start time.
  • If an employee is absent from sickness for a period of less than 7 days then they are not usually required to provide a doctors note.
  • If the illness lasts for a period of longer than 7 days the employee will usually be required to provide a Fit Note from their GP.

The Fit Note may advise the employer that the employee is only fit for certain duties or ‘may be fit for some work’. GPs advise for fitness at work in general and do not consider the employee’s job.

Long Term Sickness

Long term sicknesses may be much more serious and could involve an operation and recovery time or a mental health issue. Deal with such issues sensitively and try to follow this process:

  • Evaluate if the rest of the team can manage for a time without a replacement for the absent employee or if you need to hire somebody temporarily to fill that position.
  • Maintain regular communications with the employee about their position, sick pay and any important company updates.
  • Consider if you should perhaps just keep in touch with them and give them the time they need to get better.
  • Asses if you should ask the employee if you can contact their GP or if they need to see the company doctor in order to assess when they can return to work, if they will make a full recovery and be able to perform the same duties, if their return to work should be phased and if the employees injuries are so severe that they cannot return to work at all.

Return to Work Interviews

A return to work interview is essential after most absences.

  • A Fit Note may be presented and this could detail some duties that the employee is still not fit to perform. If this is the case try to be flexible and give them other duties until they are well enough to resume their former duties.
  • Use the return to work interview to get a better understanding of the employee’s problem and see if there is anything you can do as an employer to alleviate their situation and avoid further absence. For example, you could provide flexible working hours as a solution to some family related problems or deal with a bullying at work issue.
  • Where attendance is consistently poor, it should be made clear to the employee what is expected of them and the possible consequences if they do not meet these expectations and let the employee know if their level of absence is putting their job in jeopardy.

Taking Action against an Employee

If the above actions are failing to have any effect on a persistently absent employee, you may feel that it is time to take further action to deal with the situation.

  • Try to talk to them to understand their issue better.
  • Let them know what absence from them will result in formal discipline from you.
  • If they are repeatedly absent for unjustified or unexplained reasons then this may be treated as a conduct issue with grounds for disciplinary action or possibly even dismissal.

If you are struggling with a sick or persistently absent employee, contact an employment law specialist for free advice and next steps and call 0161 115 6164 today.



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