I can’t come in today!

Do you have that employee that has frequent spells of short-term absence?

It is important to remain open minded about an employee with high absences, rather than jumping to conclusions, that they are taking sick leave without a genuine reason.

The starting point is to ensure you have simple, clear and consistent procedures for managing short term absence that is communicated and understood by all employees. 

This starts from when the employee first calls in to say they are sick and unable to attend work. Your procedure should include how to report their initial absence, it should always require the employee to telephone in before a specific time and to speak to a named person (usually their immediate supervisor) rather than just leaving a message. 

Use a form to record the details of the absence, this ensures you capture the key information, it’s easy not to ask the right questions or even listen properly when you are thinking ahead of being short staffed. Having a form will help you be consistent and will be useful when undertaking the return-to-work meeting. 

Irrespective of the length of the absence it is imperative that you conduct a return-to-work interview with the employee, this is the most effective way of reducing casual absences. 

A return-to-work interview is an informal but important meeting, it’s an opportunity for you to follow up on the initial telephone call when the employee confirmed they would not be attending work, but also to understand if they sought medical advice and how they are feeling now. Please note you should not ask intrusive medical questions, but instead seek to establish the basic cause of the absence. Always use a return-to-work form to ensure you are recording your discussions and agreeing any actions. This again keeps your absence management consistent. 

High short-term absences can be an indication of underlying problems at work, so it’s also your chance to establish if there are any underlying could be causing or contributing to the absences. If a problem at work is identified, you should provide support with a view to resolving or reducing the problem to help improve the employee’s attendance. 

In managing absence there are two stages, the first conducting return to work interviews, the second kicks in when the employee’s absence exceeds several absences within a given period of time. This will depend on what is stipulated in your short-term absence policy.

If a defined threshold has been triggered the employee will be invited in writing to a formal absence meeting, this invite will include copies of the relevant return to work interviews. They should be given the required notice to attend and be advised of their entitlement to be accompanied to the meeting. 

At this meeting you should explain that their absences have reached an unacceptable level, seek to understand why the employee is having frequent absences, check for any absence patterns and establish if there are any underlying work problems. Give the employee a full and fair opportunity to explain the absences and put forward any mitigating factors or other representations

Clearly explain that while you remain supportive that high levels of absence are unacceptable and puts enormous additional pressure on the rest of the team. 

After the meeting and consistent with your absence policy, you may wish to issue a formal absence warning with a clear plan of action to avoid any further instances, they must also be allowed the right of appeal. 

If, following a series of formal warnings, the employee’s attendance has remained at a level that is clearly unsatisfactory, you may be able to dismiss the employee fairly. It is usual for two or three formal warnings to be given before dismissal is contemplated.

We would strongly advise that you seek legal action before taking action.  A member of our Employment Law and HR team would be happy to assist. 


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