1. Introduction to Absence
Why is managing absence important?
Employee absence can be disruptive and is a cost to the business. You cannot stop all absence, but you can put rules in place and manage absence (and reduce and minimise absence) effectively.
The guidance below discusses some key areas:
You cannot manage absence unless you monitor absence. Monitoring is the first step to reduce absence and will provide you with information to allow you to consider each situation and make appropriate decisions.
A simple monitoring procedure would be to record all absence on a spreadsheet. This should include dates, days of the week and reasons for absence. It should include monitoring different reasons for absence i.e. sickness, holiday, appointments, compassionate leave, public duties etc. Even if an absence is UNPAID you should still record it to allow you to monitor and manage each situation effectively.
You can also request employees to complete a form to authorise time off if they are aware of it in advance e.g. holidays or appointments; and/or to complete a form on their return from any periods of unplanned absence (e.g. a self certification form for sickness absence). This procedure will in itself help reduce and control absence.
Action from Monitoring
You can then decide how to deal with any absence that you feel is unacceptable or is having an impact on the business. Absence may fall under 'capability' i.e. the individual is not capable of carrying out their job role due to an underlying medical condition; or 'conduct' i.e. where an employee is malingering or choosing to take time off or their behaviour or lifestyle is contributing to their own absence.
With odd-days absence this may start with having informal discussions with employees and asking if there are any problems, or you may decide to issue a 'File Note for Improvement' etc. (see disciplinary for further guidance). Letting employees know that all absenteeism is monitored and by having these informal conversations, it will act as a deterrent and further reduce absence. If an employee's absence continues in the longer term or at an unacceptable level of frequent short-term absences, you may need to take more formal action. Review the capability guidance below and disciplinary sections.
To avoid claims of bullying, victimisation or discrimination, it is important to fairly and consistently follow your absence management policy and always act fairly and sympathetically when dealing with absence.
With long term absence or where an employee has an underlying medical condition that is impacting their ability to either attend work or fulfil the duties within their substantive role, it would be advisable to take medical advice (e.g. occupational health report) and possibly start the capability process.
You should address any concerns quickly e.g. if someone is off on 'long-term' absence, unless you are clear about when they will return, you should start to make enquiries at an early stage (e.g. at about 4 weeks). Likewise, if an employee is persistently absent for the same or similar reasons, it may be indicative there is an underlying medical condition; you should start making enquiries if a pattern in their absences becomes apparent.
Managing absence can take some time. You do not want to leave it 6 months before you start to make enquiries. By making enquires early, it will ensure that you are more informed and can therefore make decisions more quickly.
The capability procedure may also be appropriate where an individual has frequent short-term absence (where there is an underlying medical condition contributing to this).
Employees may also be absent for other reasons (not related to sickness absence). This may include public duties or compassionate leave. See absence for other reasons for further guidance. You should still monitor such absences and decide on the company policy regarding payments for such absence (see the draft policy for guidance).
Review the section on Family Friendly for guidance on absence related to maternity, paternity, parental leave, adoption, emergency leave and flexible working.
Review the section on Holidays for further guidance.