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What are my obligations as an employer when it comes to absence management?

View profile for Terri Li
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A guide to disciplinary proceedings within the accountancy profession

We commenced this month with National Sickie Day, the first Monday of every February and statistically the day that employers are likely to record the most employee absences throughout the year.

Absences recorded on National Sickie Day face the perception of being based on fabricated excuses, that being the case because it falls rather conveniently (or perhaps more so, inconveniently) on the first Monday after ‘Dry January’, ‘Blue January’ and the first weekend after pay day. It is largely suggested therefore, that the majority of absences on this day are for fabricated reasons, but of course there will be genuine cases of sickness that people may feel anxious about reporting in fear of being categorised as one of the many that do call in sick for disingenuous reasons. Whilst of course there may well be a large number of employees that are presenting as ill on National Sickie Day, February does present as a time that people catch colds and feel exhaustion after a very busy January.

Gastrointestinal issues was the most reported reason for sickness reported in 2019 at a whopping 23.98% of all recorded absences being for those issues, followed closely by cold, cough and flu at 16.34% and headache making the top three at 7.39%. Given that the majority of those account for short term and “one off” absences, it becomes increasingly difficult for employers to consider workplace adjustments to plan to prevent business impact. Business impact however, is immense on National Sickie Day alone, with an estimated 350,000 employees taking this day off in 2017, at a cost of £45 million to the UK economy.

A figure that high puts it into perspective just how difficult it can become to manage employer to employee relationships where there are cases of frequent short term absences. As an employer, a first priority is to ensure absence management policies are up to date and that all managers responsible for personnel are aware of how to deal with situations like this. It should also be on the ‘to do list’ to monitor absence data closely to enable you to properly record any trends in absences. If you have enough evidence to suggest that there is a suspicious pattern to an employee’s absences then employers are well placed to organise a review meeting with the employee in question.

There is an obligation as an employer that you take reasonable action to review and monitor trends in absence. For example, if there is an employee that has taken frequent short term leave, or suspicious leave trends, the first thought shouldn’t be that they are being disingenuous. Employers should hold return to work meetings to understand if there is a serious underlying issue. Once in receipt of this information, action plans can be implemented that can make the employee more comfortable and productive.  

The obligation doesn’t just lie with the employer here though, and employees should review their company’s absence management policy. It is important that all employees understood fully, what the correct reporting system is, what the consequences of continued absenteeism could be and ultimately how they would inform their employer if they have more serious health problems that needed to be considered.

Ultimately, National Sickie Day does bring a time to reflect on the effectiveness of absence management and business impact. If you require advice regarding a policy review or an employment dispute, and would like more information, you can speak to a member of our specialist team on 01616 966 229.

By Terri Schofield, graduate paralegal in the employment and discrimination team