How to manage absence

Absence management

Posted on 25 Nov 2019

A report recently published by the Office of National Statistics estimated that over 141 million working days were lost because of sickness or injury in the UK in 2018, the equivalent of 4.4 days per worker.

The groups with the highest rates of sickness absence were women, older workers, people with long-term health conditions, part-time employees and those working in organisations with more than 500 employees.

The four most common reasons for sickness absence in 2018 were minor illnesses, such as coughs and colds, musculoskeletal problems, and mental health problems including stress, depression and anxiety.

There is no silver bullet when it comes to managing absence, but the good news is that there are tried and tested ways to reduce absence that have been proven to work.

Attendance and sick pay policy

The first step is to make sure you have an Absence and Sick Pay Policy, which is clear, well understood by all and consistently applied by line managers. The policy should set out how absence is managed in the company and what employees must do when they are sick, e.g. contact their manager at least 1 hour before their normal start time on the first day. The policy should also explain employees’ sick pay entitlement.

Measure absence

You must have comprehensive, accurate and up-to-date information to manage absence effectively. All employees should complete a self-certification form on their first day back at work after a sickness absence. The Bradford Factor is an excellent basis of measuring absence, particularly short-term absence, because it ensures that it is managed consistently – a key benchmark of a fair procedure.

Return-to-work interviews

Return-to-work interviews are well established in business as one of the most effective ways of managing absence. Every employee should have a return-to-work interview on their first day back at work. They enable managers to establish the reasons for the employee’s absence and it sends a clear signal to them that their presence was missed. It also gives the manager the opportunity to review the employee’s absence record generally and pick up on any trends.

Seek medical/occupational health advice

It is vital to manage absence on the basis of all the facts at every stage of the absence management process. This includes obtaining medical advice from the employee’s doctor, or an independent doctor appointed by the company or via an occupational health assessment. The key objectives are to establish when the employee is likely to be able to return to work, taking account of the nature of their job, and if the Equality Act defines their condition as a disability.

Consider reasonable adjustments

As part of a fair procedure, it is vital to consider making reasonable adjustments to enable an employee who is protected by the Equality Act to return to work. This may involve reducing their hours of work, either short term or permanently, or allowing them to work from home. Any reasonable adjustment must work both ways and a company can reject a proposed adjustment if it would not be in its commercial interests.

Train line managers

Line managers should be trained to manage absence consistently and fairly, and to nip problems in the bud. There can be no room for favouritism or backing away from addressing absence that is perceived to be genuine as opposed to swinging the lead. At the very worst, inconsistency in absence management practices between managers, or even business locations in multi-site companies, could end up with a successful claim for unfair dismissal at an Employment Tribunal.

Any questions regarding sickness and absenteeism at work? Get in touch, we would be more than happy to help!

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