Absent without leave

SFA HR Executive Emma Crowley outlines her top tips on how to deal with employee absenteeism effectively

Occasional illness is a normal part of life and employers will inevitably have to manage absence from work at some time or another. Employee absence can have many negative effects on a business. Associated costs include paying the employee’s absence if the company has a sick pay scheme in place, overtime to those carrying out the duties of the absent colleague and medical referrals. In addition, from next year all workers will have the right to paid sick leave. It is expected to begin with three paid sick days per year for each employee starting in 2022, rising to five days in 2023 and seven days in 2024. This phased approach will allow employers time to prepare and adjust for the scheme and its associated costs.
There are also indirect costs such as an effect on productivity, poor staff morale, increased pressure on colleagues and administration time by human resources or the employer managing the leave. The only way to counter the effects is by having a well-considered and developed policy and a robust procedure on absence management. Below, I have set out five tips to effectively manage and minimise absence in your business.

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Absence Policy
The purpose of a company absence policy is to alleviate hardship due to unavoidable absence from work through genuine illness or injury. It should set out an employer’s expectations and approach to employee absence and the employee’s obligations in complying with the policy, for example how, when and who the employee should notify of their absence.

Attendance recording is essential to ensure an impartial and uniform identification of unacceptable absenteeism. A good records system should provide detailed information on type, patterns and times of absence in order for this to be monitored effectively.

Trained Managers
Responsibility for good attendance lies in the first instance with line managers. Managers should be trained to know when to seek medical advice and at what point to invoke the firm’s disciplinary procedures. Managers must be conscious of their responsibilities to employees, especially employees with a disability who have added protection under employment equality legislation.

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Return-to-work Interviews
Return-to-work interviews are a powerful control mechanism when dealing with employee absence. The interviews demonstrate the organisation’s strong commitment to controlling absenteeism in the workplace. Putting a procedure in place to investigate and discuss absence with employees can serve as a deterrent to employees debating whether to take illegitimate sick leave. The manager should use the interview to explore any issues that the employee may have which are causing absences.

Referral to Medical Practitioner
Every company should retain the right to refer employees to a medical practitioner in their contract and company handbook.

There are many issues which must be considered by an employer in terms of managing employees who have high levels of absenteeism. However, a clear policy which has been communicated to employees and is implemented in a fair and reasonable manner will assist to keep employers within the confines of the law.