It will never be possible to eliminate sickness absence entirely. However, sickness absence can be controlled with clear policies and procedures.
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 “see” absence patterns easily so the day(s) and date(s) and the reason for the absence need to be visually apparent. These records will help to detect when the individual’s absence has reached a point that now needs to be examined.
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. These can 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. This meeting is not a disciplinary hearing although you may want to offer them the opportunity of being accompanied if they so wish.
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 there is a problem at work to cause this and what can be done to prevent or reduce the situation in the future.
Assuming 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 the explanation(s), issue the appropriate level of warning. If the reasons are legitimate and illness is an 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.
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