Colds and flu can attack at any time of year but can be a particular problem over the winter period because germs spread much more easily when people stay indoors because of bad weather. Sickness absence because of these ailments can be a problem for employers when the workforce is already depleted due to the rush to fit in annual leave before the end of the leave year. It is difficult for employers to run a good business when employees are not there and if employees cannot maintain an acceptable attendance record, then action should be taken. Having clear absence notification guidelines is key. Make sure all employees know who to call to notify of their absence, and when they should do it by. This then becomes a rule within the company which itself can lead to disciplinary action if not complied with. When sickness absence is for a period of longer seven days or longer, you should ask for proof of the sickness. This will be in the form of a sick note, commonly now known as a fit note, from the employee’s doctor to provide evidence of the reason for sickness and the likely length of absence. Absences of this length that are not covered by a sick note may be dealt with as unauthorised absence which can be an issue of conduct you should take up with the employee. Return to work interviews are an integral part of any good absence management system. Although the name may suggest otherwise, you are not interviewing the employee as such but having a discussion with them about their absence. Used correctly, the information captured during this meeting can be mutually beneficial. This meeting needs to be held after every bout of absence, with the details such as length of absence and the reason recorded. This makes it easier to pull data about an employee’s entire previous absence history. Have a look over previous history and see if the employee has reached your contractual trigger points for action. If they have, stick to your contractual procedures and deal with the employee appropriately – it is likely that your procedures will start with informal action, leading up to formal action including disciplinary hearings and warnings. It’s important that employees are aware of the level of attendance that you consider acceptable – your trigger point for an informal chat may be 3 absences in the previous rolling year. When an employee reaches 3 absences within that rolling year, your policy may move on to a letter of concern and so on. Employees should always be given chance to improve before the next step of action is taken. Ultimately, continually poor absence records can end in dismissal even if the reason for the absences includes inevitable winter colds and coughs. For further clarification please contact the Peninsula Advice Service on 0844 892 2772.