Ask The HR Expert: Dealing with absenteeism

Peninsula Team

April 06 2012

How to deal with absenteeism due to the recent lovely weather? It will never be possible to eliminate sickness absence entirely – people will be genuinely ill and unable to work on occasions. It is not possible to plan ahead for sickness absence and it is this unforeseen time which poses the biggest problem for employers, especially small employers. One person absent from a small work force will be more noticeable that one person absent from a workforce of 350. There are certain times of the year where you might see your absence level increasing – for example, during a World Cup, in the Christmas Party season and of course, when the weather is nice. Because employees do not have to provide a sick note until their absence spans 7 days, it may be difficult to ascertain the real reason behind the odd day off here and there and it may consequently be easy to suspect foul play. You should, as a matter of course, be conducting return to work interviews with employees on their return from sick leave during which you can have a discussion with them over the reasons for their absence. These should be carried out consistently – don’t think that they aren’t worth it just for one day of absence. If you do not crack down on all forms of absence, showing a consistent attitude, you will never instil into your employees the seriousness of the issue. Remember that these interviews are not disciplinary hearings so should not be dealt with as such. If the employee is particularly evasive with their answers, you may then feel that there is sufficient call to begin a disciplinary procedure but for now, you are just trying to find out facts. The alarms bells may start ringing for you if the employee was off sick on a date for which you had previously declined an annual leave request because the employee knew the weather was going to be good. Write down that the employee says during the interview, ideally in a standard format, and ask them to sign it. You should also maintain a set of sickness absence records. Record absence in a “user friendly” format, so that you can see easily whether any patterns are emerging. You should note, as a minimum, the day(s) and date(s) and the reason for the absence. This will help you to see at a glance whether action should be taken in relation to particular employees, or if an individual’s absence has reached a pre-determined amount and now needs to be examined. Keeping documentary evidence in relation to absences is also key i.e. self-certification forms or doctors’ sick notes. Persistent absence, at whatever time of year, can amount to a disciplinary offence and your disciplinary procedure should cover this. As always, watch out for absence that may be disability related and deal with it accordingly. Clear contractual terms relating to absence, pay and formal action need to be outlined, including when termination is likely to become a consequence. For any further information regarding absenteeism issues, please call our 24 Hour Advice Service on 0844 892 2772.

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