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Absence Management 

An employee may be absent from work for many reasons: 

  • Sickness absence (short term/long term);
  • Holiday;
  • Family Friendly (Maternity/paternity/adoption/shared parental leave);
  • Dependant’s leave;
  • Authorised unpaid leave;
  • Other statutory leave entitlements; or
  • Unauthorised absence. 

Most absences, such as holidays and family friendly reasons, are arranged in advance and can be planned.  However, sickness absence, genuine or otherwise, can have a disruptive effect on your business. 

In addition to the direct impact of costs to cover sick pay and temporary cover, there are many other considerations for the business. These include things like lower productivity, as projects may be delayed and lower morale of other colleagues who have a greater workload to cover for their absent colleagues. It may even lead to motivation issues, relationship difficulties between colleagues and poor customer service. 

Absences can be tricky for any organisation, so it’s important that absence management policies are established to deal with them.  Having procedures in place are vital to ensure you know: who is absent, why they are absent, how long they will be away for, and when they will return. 

Recording absences via a simple spreadsheet or a bespoke software package can help manage absences, for example it should identify any short term absence patterns or reliability concerns. 

There are HR tools available to give managers an idea of how disruptive different types of absence may have on their business. One commonly used tool is the Bradford Factor, which takes into account both the frequency and length of absence.  

Having absence management policies in place should help manage the different types and lengths of absences their employees may have. A clear policy should detail:

  • under what circumstances employees are allowed to take time off from work;
  • whether the absence is unpaid or whether the employee will receive full pay or a statutory payment such as Statutory Sick Pay;
  • the procedure (e.g. absence notification) an employee must follow; and
  • what evidence the employee must disclose, to whom and when.  

Any policy to manage absence should make clear what disciplinary procedures may be taken against the employee for non-compliance. Any policy should be well publicised so that all employees are aware of it.

Without clear and consistently applied absence management policies and procedures, an employee may feel they have been dealt with unfairly, which may lead to a grievance or potentially a claim before the employment tribunal. 

As well as absence due to sickness, employees are entitled to a reasonable amount of unpaid time off work to deal with sudden issues relating to a dependent such as child or parent. This is regardless of how long they have worked, whether they are full or

part time, or on a temporary or permanent contract. How this is managed by the employer is very important. There is great potential for allegations of discrimination when absences are not managed effectively and where employees may feel that other employees are being favoured. 

How employers deal with absence issues is therefore extremely important since it can be costly to them when it goes wrong. Sentient work with employers to ensure that they understand what type of absence they are dealing with what options are legally available for them to pursue. We will help to identify what other employment issues may arise as a result of how the absence is being handled and provide advice to ensure that the risk of a tribunal claim is minimised.

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