Managing Short Term and Frequent Absence

Managing Short Term and Frequent Absence

Managing Short Term and Frequent Absence

All absences of employees can have a serious impact on the business, particularly if it is a relatively small organisation. However, frequent short term absences can be more disruptive than a long term absence because of the unpredictable and recurring nature of these absences. It is, therefore important that organisations have a policy and procedures relating to absence management that is clear about employee responsibilities and actions that will be taken to minimise absences and the disruption these cause. Procedures should also specify trigger points at which time this will prompt a manager to arrange a review meeting with the employee to discuss the reasons for the continued absences. Trigger points may include a specific number of absences eg 2 or 3 within a given period of time eg six months but an organisation can choose their own trigger points. The review meeting is not a disciplinary meeting. The meeting should be supportive and sympathetic. Once the cause of the absence is known steps can be taken to assist the employee, if possible, or make suggestions that might help.

Common causes of frequent absenteeism

It is also important that the employee is encouraged to discuss the reasons for their absences in a non threatening manner with reassurances that any discussions are kept confidential. Submission of fit notes if the employee is off for more than 7 days is essential and a return to work interview should be conducted on the employee’s return even if he/she has only been absent for one day.

Some common causes of frequent absenteeism are as follows but there may be other root causes:

• An underlying medical conditions that flares up from time to time

• An unusually high, but genuine, vulnerability to colds, flu etc.

• Excessive tiredness, for example, because the employee stays out late at night or has a second job.

• Personal or family problems

• Specific problems in the workplace

• Stress related anxiety

• Demotivation

Managers should be alert to signals that an employee may be suffering from stress to an extent that he or she is not coping adequately. Fit notes that state “stress, depression or anxiety” should put a manager on notice that there may be a workplace problem that needs to be addressed urgently.

Monitoring short-term absences

Line managers can do a great deal to manage short-term absenteeism effectively with a view to reducing its frequency. Managers should take positive steps to monitor and control employees’ periods of absence from work. There are two stages to the process, the first being when the employee first reports sick and the second stage when absences exceed a defined threshold in terms of their number and/or duration within a given period of time i.e. trigger points.

The first stage

Ensure that you have a protocol in place which is outlined in your absence procedures which will include details of who the employee must contact in the event of absence, what communication method is acceptable such as telephone contact to a specific person eg line manager – not a message left with the receptionist and what method is not acceptable eg sending a message via social media or texting. This initial contact will provide an opportunity to explore the reasons for the absence, likely duration and return to work.

It’s useful to have a set format so that all employees are treated consistently.

When the employee returns a Return to Work interview should be convened, preferably the same day or, if possible at the beginning of the working day so that there is no further disruption.

Return to Work Interviews

Although return to work interviews should be supportive and reasonably informal, the fact that the employee is required to attend an interview on returning to work tends to deter casual absences because employees will know that monitoring of absences is taken seriously and that they will have to account to their manager for each absence. There is no right for the employee to be accompanied and the manager should make it clear to the employee that the purpose of this type of interview is to monitor absences but also to ascertain if there is anything the organisation can do to assist the employee with a view to minimising absences. The manager should not ask intrusive medical questions but should seek to establish the basic cause of the absence. Notes should be kept of the meeting and filed securely.

Absence Reviews

The second stage of the process will be activated once an employee’s absences have reached a trigger point. When determining trigger points it is useful to include separate spells of absence rather than just days in a defined period of time.

Eg. An employee has 12 days of sickness in 5 different spells. Using a formula of Spells x Days we reach a total of 60. Whereas another employee has the same number of days but in one absence, the total when multiplied is only 12. The first example would reach a trigger point but the second would not.

During the review the manager should:

• Look for patterns eg nearly always Mondays

• Ascertain whether or not there is any underlying cause of the frequent absences and, if there is, what if any action is required to alleviate the situation.

• Check whether or not the employee’s absences could be work related and, if this is the case, arrange to address the particular problem with a view to removing or reducing the root cause.

• Seek to agree with the employee reasonable targets and time limits for improvements in attendance and ensure that the employee is committed to achieving these targets.

• Inform the employee that continuing high levels of absence are unacceptable and that if an improvement is not achieved and sustained formal action may be instigated.

• Consider if it would be helpful or appropriate to seek medical advice. You will need the employee’s permission to implement this course of action.

If there is no sustained improvement after these actions have been taken and it has been established that there is no known on-going medical problem, it would be reasonable to instigate disciplinary procedures and employers should then follow the disciplinary process and the employee would have a right to be accompanied at each disciplinary meeting and would have a right of appeal.


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