Frequent Employee Absences: How to Manage Them Correctly

  • Employer advice
Frequent Employee Absences: How to Manage Them Correctly
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Peninsula Team, Peninsula Team

(Last updated )

It is common for business owners to face absenteeism attributed to sickness in their workplace. Such absences can often be disruptive of the employer’s business if left unmanaged; but how can employers deal with this issue?

Finding the Cause of the Absences

Employers must consider different options depending on the duration, frequency, and underlying cause of absences. For example, if an employee is frequently taking one or two days off here and there due to illness, employers should investigate the underlying reason for the absences before considering disciplinary action. This might involve speaking with the employee and requiring the employee to submit medical notes confirming that the employee was too ill to attend work.

If an employee is unable to provide medical confirmation for their sick days when requested by the employer, then the employer may discipline the employee for unauthorized absence.

Medical Notes and the Duty to Accommodate

If the employee is able to provide medical notes for sporadic absences, but the employee’s rate of absence is notably higher than the employer’s other employees, the employer will need to speak with the employee to determine whether the employee asserts that their sick days are connected with a disability. If so, the employer’s duty to accommodate the employee to the point of undue hardship under human rights legislation will be triggered, and the employer will have to work with the employee and the employee’s physician to determine whether the employer can accommodate the employee at work without the employee having to take sick days, or whether the employer will have to accommodate the employee’s disability by permitting sporadic sick days.

Disciplinary Action

If the employee’s investigation reveals that the sick days are not connected to a disability, then the employer may treat the absences as a performance issue and subject the employee to attendance management. This involves working with the employee to set attendance goals, which are monitored by the employer on an ongoing basis. If the employee is unable to approve their attendance within a reasonable period of time, the employer may give the employee a final notice to improve their attendance, failing which the employer may consider dismissing the employee.

Short or Long Term Medical Leaves

Where an employee requests a short or long term medical leave of absence, employers are entitled to request additional information to be provided directly by the employee’s physician, including the nature and prognosis of the illness (but not the diagnosis), the employee’s expected return to work date, and whether the employee’s physician believes that the employee might be able to return to work with accommodations.

Absences Due to Disability

Where the employee’s absence is connected to a disability, the employer will be required to accommodate the employee’s absence and eventual return to work. Note that under the Ontario Employment Standards Act, 2000, employees are entitled to up to three sick days without pay per calendar year.

Under BC's Employment Standards Act, employees are entitled to 5 days of paid sick leave and 3 days unpaid sick leave per year. While Alberta has no legislated minimum requirement for sick days, Alberta's Employment Standards Code provides for job-protected leaves of absence, such as long-term illness or injury leave and personal and family responsibility leave.

That being said, employers may not discipline employees for taking additional legitimate sick days if required, but excessive sick days unrelated to disability may be subject to performance management.

Do you need help addressing absenteeism in the workplace?

Peninsula can assist your business in developing attendance management policies and accommodation policies to help managers tackle employee absenteeism. To learn more about how Peninsula can help your business grow, or if you have any HR or health and safety questions, contact us at: 1 (833) 247-3652

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