It is your duty as an employer to keep a close eye on your employee’s absences from work. This is for two main reasons; firstly, to ensure that your business does not suffer due to staff absence and secondly, to ensure that your staff are well, healthy and happy.
Every company should keep a record of employee absence. Keeping this record will help you identify any emerging patterns of absence or alert you to a member of staff suffering from a long-term illness. Each department within your business should keep its own records, you are then able to compare company absence from sector to sector. Employee absences records should always be managed in light of the Date Protection Act (1998). Any records of employee absence should then be destroyed after 3 years (of the financial in which it was made) and if you are monitoring any statistics then employees should be made aware.
If a pattern of absence appears which is inter-departmental, i.e. one department has a considerably higher level of absence, then you should take the appropriate steps into looking at that departments working environment. Not only this but you should look to your senior members of staff to report on issues within the department, which could be causing the higher levels of absence.
Another good procedure to implement is the ‘return to work interview’. This face-to-face meeting should be done in private with the relevant line manager for that employee. The interview has several purposes; it details why the employee was off work, if they are suffering from something which may cause further absence and most importantly if they are well enough to come back to work. It can also provide the employee with a private outlet to complain about their working environment and/or fellow staff members, which incidentally could be causing their absence.
If you do not deal with employee absence at an early stage you run the risk of the following occurring:
– Low staff esteem due to increased workloads in covering the absent colleague
– Agency staff bills being extraordinarily high
– The company failing to reach targets or provide a good service due to a lack of consistent staffing
In order to deal with an emerging absence pattern there are some steps you can take to ensure that you investigate the problem scrupulously. Firstly, you should compare the employee’s absence over your last 3 years of records to establish any recurring pattern. Secondly, compare the employee’s absence record to that of the other employee’s within the same department, this may identify a work related issue. Lastly, check that the employee does not have an illness which fits the criteria of the Disability Discrimination Act 1995. The area of disability discrimination is particular complex — don’t risk being grounds for a potentially highly expensive disability discrimination claim — take advice from expert employment solicitors first.
For the first few absences the employee needs to be dealt with amicably. Discuss with the employee the reasons why they have had continued absences or absences which form a pattern. Solutions such as flexible working arrangements, changing work location or job description can offer lower cost results for you and the employee.
If no solution can be found or the problem is merely unauthorised absence, then you have the option of disciplining the employee under capability and/or conduct. An approved disciplinary handling procedure should be used at this time.
If you are in any doubt as to the reason for the employee’s absence or the grounds upon which you are starting the disciplinary procedures, then you should seek legal advice immediately from specialist employment solicitors. A dismissal based upon an employee’s absence has to be legal and if it is not you could face claims of an unfair dismissal via the Employment Tribunal.
Perhaps the very simplest step is to make sure that you have clear policies on employee absence. If you don’t and you are not sure where to begin, contact specialist Employment Solicitors who should be able to provide you with appropriate policies dealing with employee absence at a relatively modest cost.