EB writes: One of my employees is off sick on average two days per month. It’s generally something unspecific like a migraine or general sickness. Is this too high a level of sickness and should I challenge it?

Two days a month might not appear to be a high level of sickness, but, where this is occurring every month this adds up to nearly five working weeks of sickness a year; a substantial amount for any business. Studies show that short, persistent sicknesses have more of an impact on businesses than long-term sickness so employers should ensure they are managing this issue effectively.

All instances of sickness, whether for one day or two, and the reasons for it should be recorded by the employer. This will allow employers to spot any patterns in the absences, for example, are they taking Fridays off with a “headache” following staff drinks on Thursday?

Though the employee should be providing a reason for the absence when they are reporting this, a return to work meeting is an essential tool to tackle sickness levels. This meeting should cover the reasons for the absence and whether the employer can do anything to keep the employee in work. The important point of the meeting is that the employee will have to talk through their sickness face to face. This is likely to ensure that any sickness is genuine because they are going to be deterred from falsifying sickness as they have to, essentially, explain themselves.

Additionally, the meeting may produce an agreed change which will help the employee stay in work. Sickness caused by migraines could be reduced by a simple change such as amending the brightness of lights or computer screens used the employee.

Ultimately, if levels of sickness are too high the employee can be disciplined for this. Unacceptable absence levels are usually contained in an absence policy outlining the number of occasions, or points, at which absence becomes unacceptable and the employee can face action. Persistent absences are likely to reach the trigger point quickly and a reasonable disciplinary sanction can be awarded. Employers might find that actually taking action and giving a verbal warning, or a first warning, is sufficient to change the employee’s attitude and reduce absence levels. If not, and the persistent absences continue, so too can disciplinary action when trigger points are reached again.