It is virtually impossible to eradicate sickness absence entirely; however it can be controlled with clear policies and procedures that must be communicated to all staff, including new starters.
As an employer, your starting point must be your sickness absence records. Record the absence in a “user friendly” format. You need to be able to identify absence patterns easily and the reason[s] for the absence need to be visually apparent and logged. These records will help to detect when an individual’s absence has reached critical levels, thus needing to be examined by management.
Clear contractual terms relating to absence, pay whilst absent and formal action to be taken (including when termination may be considered) are necessary and must be followed. Clearly these will differ depending on whether the absence is a capability issue or due to the conduct of the employee.
Should an issue be raised regarding an employee’s attendance then it is best to first set-up a personal interview with them to discuss their health and recent absences. Give them notice and listen to what they have to say. This meeting is not a disciplinary hearing although you may want to offer them the opportunity of being accompanied by a colleague should they so wish to.
At the meeting explain that the frequency and amount of absence has triggered the company’s procedures regarding absence and you wish to examine the absences, and explore the causes, whether it is linked to a problem at work, and what actions can be implemented to prevent the situation from occurring in the future.
Where the explanations are unacceptable, you should warn the individual and explain that you will be instigating a disciplinary hearing at a time and date to be notified. End the meeting there.
Conduct the disciplinary hearing as per your contractual terms and the requirements of the ACAS Code of Practice. If at the end of that meeting you are dissatisfied with any explanation given, issue the appropriate level of warning. If the reasons are legitimate and the illness is a personal issue with the employee, try and discuss any possible adjustments to help the employee in their job. You can look at the job itself, the location of work and method of working to help with the employee’s health situation. Try and be sympathetic if facing such a situation.
It is important to remember that by taking a firm yet fair stance regarding absenteeism you will demonstrate to your employees that you take the issue seriously and unauthorised absenteeism will not be tolerated.
For advice on absenteeism then contact the Peninsula Advice Service on 0844 892 2772.