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Dealing with Employee Absence

It has been reported that more than a third of sick notes given to employers are from people feigning illness.

Whatever the cause, employee absences can be both costly and disruptive.

It is important to have systems in place to measure and analyse these costs so that you can identify problem areas.

Workplace stress is still the most common cause of long-term sickness among non-manual workers. Creating a friendly workplace environment where flexible, family friendly policies are in force is likely to pay dividends, keeping absenteeism to a minimum. Unhappy, demoralised employees are more likely to take time off work.

To manage absence effectively, make sure staff have a good understanding of your sickness policy and procedures. Make sure procedures are seen to be followed and keep accurate records. These must be kept for at least three years after the appropriate financial year-end.

When hiring new staff, make sure you check their attendance record with the previous employer. If new staff are absent it is good practice to make sure you know if there are problems preventing them from settling in. How staff are treated in the first weeks of a new job is vital. Inadequate training can leave them feeling disillusioned.

It is sensible for employers to ensure that contracts of employment allow them the right to obtain an independent medical assessment in the event of an employee taking more than a few days off work. You may consider requiring all potential employees to undergo a medical examination with an occupational health adviser.

As a matter of company policy always carry out a return to work interview. This may range from ‘hope you’re better, we missed your contribution’ to an identification of underlying problems that will affect your management strategy. It may also deter malingerers.

Long-term sickness must be handled sensitively. You must have an employee’s permission to apply for a medical report. It is vital to keep in touch so that the employee doesn’t feel isolated. Consider referring them to an occupational health specialist who can identify possible ways of helping them return to work and give you an idea as to how long the absence is likely to last.

Disciplinary action for unacceptable absence must be distinguished from dismissal on health grounds. Employers need to be aware of the full range of conditions which come under the Disability Discrimination Act 1995. Where an employee is suffering from a condition covered by the Act, reasonable adjustments must be made to help them return to work.

Dealing with long term absences, in particular, is a difficult area of the law. Each case must be decided on its own merits and proper procedures must be followed. If you have a problem of this nature, we can advise you according to the individual circumstances.