An Employer’s Guide to Absence Management – Part 1

Identifying Sickness Absence 

Sickness absence can prove very costly for employers irrespective of the size of the company. The impact is not only financial however as it can have a massive impact on the overall efficiency of the company and crucially your ability to meet the needs of your clients and customers.

Absence management covers several areas, but before we can focus on how to manage absenteeism, we need to look at the different types of absence, while hopefully expelling a few commonly held myths and answering some frequently asked questions along the way.

How many ‘sick days’ are employees entitled to?

Most of us are absent due to sickness from time to time, but there is no sickness ‘entitlement’ set out in UK law.

Employees are entitled to Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) which they can claim for up to 28 weeks; however, there are certain exclusions and eligibility criteria for this which will be explored in a later article.

When is sickness absence not sickness absence?

  • Sickness of a dependant such as a child or other relative. The employee is not sick, so don’t record it as sickness. This is time off for dependents and is purely for an emergency and is also unpaid.
  • Car won’t start. Again, the car may be sick, but your employee isn’t, so it’s not sickness absence. Likely to be unpaid leave.
  • Dentist appointment. Unless their dentist tells the employee they cannot work due to dental treatment; an appointment is not sickness absence. Also, this type of appointment should be taken in the employee’s own time where possible and is usually unpaid unless the time is being made back up.

I have an employee who has a medical condition, and they are absent a lot more than their colleagues- what do I do?

An employee with a long-standing medical condition is likely to be classed as having a disability under the Equality Act.

If their condition causes them to be away from work, then you need to look at making ‘reasonable adjustments’ to their work environment. This is not redesigning the job so that it causes a detriment to the employer but looking at making changes such as increased breaks, changes to hours or shift patterns etc.

These changes may be easily implemented and could have a big difference in helping your employee attend work more regularly and also ensure that you are adhering to your duty of care.

What about non-disability related absences?

Absences such as coughs, colds, upset stomachs etc. are usually referred to as ‘general absences’. Provided they do not relate to an ongoing medical condition they can be managed by your company disciplinary procedure.

What about pregnancy-related absence?

Pregnancy-related absence is not disability-related, nor it is general absence.

Pregnant employees are protected from less favourable treatment on the grounds of their pregnancy. So if they were to be disciplined because they had reached certain absence triggers (more about absence management tools in part 2), then this constitutes less favourable treatment.  Why? If they had they not been pregnant, they would not be being disciplined. Disciplinary action in this instance is also discriminatory on the grounds of sex because of course, a male employee is not going to face disciplinary action for pregnancy-related absence.

What can we do? Again consider more breaks, varied working hours and ensure the pregnancy risk assessment is up to date.

However if you are in doubt we always recommend you seek advice from someone qualified, as miss management of absence can lead to complications such as discrimination and unlawful deduction of wages plus other serious consequences, depending on each case. – It’s not worth taking any risks so be safe and always take advice. Please feel free to call our free advice service on 01702 455777 and we can always guide you in the right direction.

How can I identify the reasons for absence when my employee says that their health is their business and I have no legal right to ask them about it?

Future articles will focus on what information you can request by way of medical reports and how to go about this. However, sickness absence records are essential.

Just explain to the employee that the information will be held in the strictest of confidence and you have a duty of care to manage attendance. If they won’t provide reasons, then the absence may be classed as unauthorised.

Remember- Sickness absence is often an inevitability, but it’s not an entitlement.

Not all absences are equal, so ensure the reasons for the absences are clearly recorded to avoid costly mistakes.

Stay tuned for part 2 of this article which will be produced on 14th of December.