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Alan Price

Peninsula Business Services

Employment Law & HR Director

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How to deal with frequent short-term absences


Absence of any kind can cause headaches for employers. Even the odd single day off can have a significant impact; absence does not need to get to the ‘long-term’ stage before it becomes a problem.

Short term absences can be a result of a number of different reasons, such as short term sickness absence, unauthorised absence or persistent lateness. Being aware of the reason behind the absence will help you find a way to reduce absences of this type.

Following up an absence

When an employee is absent for any number of reasons, it is important to follow this up with a ‘return to work’ interview.

An interview of this type can help identify any absence problems, especially in short-term absences, at an early stage. This will allow you to understand the reasons which caused the absence and enable you to manage it effectively.

Providing support to the employee

As an employer you should have a discussion with the employee to establish if there is any support you can provide.

For example, if the employee was absent due to care responsibilities, e.g. child care, you could suggest the option of flexible working. Depending on the employee’s situation this could be in the form of an early finish or even working term time only.

It is a common misconception that you cannot discipline an employee for their genuine sickness absence.

If they could not come into work due to an emergency they may be allowed statutory unpaid time off in case of an emergency involving a dependant.

In that case, you should tell them that they can take enough time off to deal with the emergency and arrange to get in touch with them later on to discuss when they can return to work.

Another example is in cases of short term sickness absence due to work related stress, you should look into the cause of the stress (such as bullying or harassment) and take action to cease it.

Firm but fair

Although you should provide support to your employees where possible, you should also have a firm approach when employees’ absence levels are too high.

For that reason, in accordance with best employment practice you should monitor and keep a record of any absences, but be aware that the information on this record should be treated as confidential.

Monitoring absence levels can help you identify any trends and patterns in the absence of certain employees and help you decide whether you should take action.

Implement a policy

A clear absence policy is necessary as it can support the needs of the business and set out the rules and responsibilities employees should comply with.

An absence policy should give details of how to notify the employer when staff members cannot attend work, how to fill in a self-certification form or when they need to provide a fit note, details on any contractual sick pay and any absence trigger points which will initiate disciplinary action.

It is a common misconception that you cannot discipline an employee for their genuine sickness absence. Genuine sickness absence still leaves you with an absent employee and when that absence reaches an unacceptable level, you must take action.

Action would be required for two reasons: to attempt to improve the employee’s absence level and to send the message to other members of staff that no absence goes unacknowledged and steps will be taken to record, monitor and address it.

Author Profile Picture
Alan Price

Employment Law & HR Director

Read more from Alan Price

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