As the nights draw in, levels of absenteeism begin to rise. Ros Gumbley, HR consultant at LiquidHR, outlines just how you can keep track of your sickly staff.

The costs associated with absence are often high both from the physical cost and the impact the absence has on the business. With the arrival of winter, employers are faced with an increase in employee absenteeism, flu and cold epidemics are usually at their most prevalent along with ailments resulting from seasonal festivities.

How do businesses deal with employees where absence levels become unacceptably high, or where a position needs to be covered as a result of long-term absence? We recommend the following process is used, however, the employer needs to first identify whether the absence is long term or intermittent?

Intermittent Absence

Employers must ensure that they take the following steps prior to invoking any formal action:

  • Conduct a fair review of the attendance record, the reasons for absence and the likelihood of reoccurrence
  • Give the employee an opportunity to make representations
  • Give appropriate warnings of dismissal if things do not improve
  • Consider the general effect of the absences on the team and output of the Company
  • Consider the nature and importance of the employee’s position
  • Consider any recent improvement in the employee’s attendance record
  • Where an underlying medical condition has been identified, the employer should seek medical opinion from a qualified specialist or practitioner to determine the extent and likely duration of the condition. If it becomes clear that the nature of the condition is such that there is unlikely to be any improvement, the employer should follow the same steps when dealing with an employee who is off as a result of long-term illness.

    Appropriate procedural steps must be taken which should reflect the same formal procedure used for disciplinary purposes. The decision to dismiss must be fair and the employer must consider, given all the circumstances, whether they can be expected to wait any longer before dismissing and, if so, how much longer? An Employment Tribunal will consider whether the employer took into account both the interests of the Business and the employee. The employer must be able to clearly demonstrate that in taking the decision to dismiss the employee, any other reasonable employer would have come to the same conclusion. It is important to remember that the decision to dismiss is an employment not a medical one and should be made by the employer in the light of the available evidence.

    Prolonged or Long-term sickness

    In deciding to dismiss an employee for Prolonged or Long-term sickness a fair procedure must be followed, this consists of two areas:

    • Medical investigation
    • Consultation with the employee
    • The employer should obtain enough medical evidence in order to make an informed decision about the continued employment of the employee. The medical evidence may comprise of any of the following:

      • Medical certificates during the period of absence
      • Medical report from employee’s GP
      • Medical report or examination from Occupational Health or Medical Specialist
      • In the first instance it is important to ascertain the seriousness of the illness, its likely length and effect. It is also key to establish the type of work the employee would be capable of upon his or her return and any reasonable adjustments that may be required (in accordance with the Disability Discrimination Act). Once the medical information has been received a meeting should be arranged with the employee to discuss the detail of the information, however, employers should not set themselves up as medical experts and any decision to dismiss should be taken in the light of available medical advice.

        In some cases the employee may be able to return to work on ‘lighter duties’ or on a phased part-time basis. This is often beneficial to all concerned and will assist the employer in assessing what the employee is capable of. Regular reviews should be carried out so that the employee’s progress can be monitored and the arrangements changed to reflect his/her recovery (or otherwise) from the illness/condition.

        Preventing Absence

        Employers can take measures to try to encourage employees to only take time off for genuine reasons, these may include:

        • The introduction of a reward scheme for high levels of attendance
        • The introduction of ‘duvet’ days
        • Insisting on a Dr’s certificate from the first day of absence (however, the Company should reimburse any costs incurred)
        • Conducting ‘return to work’ discussions following each occasion of absence

        Obviously employers need to consider the cost of offering reward schemes or ‘duvet’ days whilst balancing the cost of absenteeism.