Employers expect that employees will not be absent from work unnecessarily. Among the many concerns of employers, staff absences feature highly and for good reason. Continued staff absence from work can be very costly to the business, and can compromise its ability to operate and deliver its service effectively. Employee attendance at work is important and should be tracked. However, any instances of employee absence from work should be handled carefully, as part of a well-coordinated and legally compliant absence management procedure.
Given our experience of working with employers, we at Employ Easily Legal Services are acutely aware that there is a belief that any attempt by employers to address long-term or persistent staff absence from work breaches UK employment law. Contrary to this belief, the law does permit employers to record and manage staff absences. The team at Employ Easily Legal Services can help employers with this, preserving the interests of the business more widely and making considerable savings on costs, which would have otherwise been incurred.
How to manage staff absence effectively?
The reality for employers is that from time-to-time, some of their workforce will be absent from work due to some kind of sickness. The difficulty employers find in handling these instances properly is how to avoid any grievance or legal complaint being raised against them at a later date.
The important point in managing staff absences is that any procedure that employers use must be fair. While there is no question that repeated staff absences can be detrimental to a business, this is cannot justify an unfair handling of the situation.
Dealing with repeated short-term absence
An employee’s constant short-term absence from work can be as damaging to a business as long-term absence, impeding the consistency and continuity with which a service is delivered. It is advisable that any procedure that employers have in place to manage short-term absences includes the following points:
- The procedure must be objective and based on transparent criteria that are applied consistently across the workforce;
- Any review of employee attendance must be fair;
- There must be an opportunity afforded to an employee to give their reasons for being absent from work repeatedly, and they should be afforded an opportunity to improve their record; and
- If the situation warrants it, the employee should be advised that there is a risk of dismissal from employment if their attendance does not improved.
Employers should follow their absence management plan carefully. Every employee is different, and there should be some degree of investigation to establish why an employee is repeatedly absent from work. This could reveal an employee's underlying issue, including medical conditions that may impact their ability to reduce their absence from work. This also raises the need for attention to be paid to the terms of Equality legislation, which affords protection to employees that suffer from certain conditions that amount to a disability.
If there is no underlying health condition affecting an employee, then it may be that there is a need to consider altering an employee's working arrangements, e.g. discuss with them whether a different role or environment would help to reduce their absence from work. It is not illegal for an employer to dismiss an employee owing to their absence from work, but this option should only be used as a last resort after all other options have been exhausted.
Dealing with Long-term staff absence
In most cases, instances of an employee’s long-term absence of from work can be attributed to underlying health issues. In that situation, employers are well advised to conduct a thorough investigation into the employee's circumstances:
- Enquire about the nature of the condition;
- Seek guidance on when the employee can expect to be back at work, and whether this is a realistic prospect; and
- Explore whether a change in role or other working arrangements would allow the employee to return to work sooner.
As with short-term illness, it is important that employers consider employee long-term illness carefully. It is possible for employers to raise the possibility of dismissal with employees, but this should also only be done in severe cases. Furthermore, it is important to note that employers will expose themselves to legal action if they fail to observe any sick pay provisions of an employee's contract which they are obliged to observe, prior to considering whether to terminate their relationship with an employee.
It is also vital that an employer’s absence management procedures and process take into account the realities of many employees’ lives. This includes accounting for absences due to emergencies at home, issues involving children and other delicate matters, e.g. a family member’s ill health. Managing staff absence effectively is a challenge for employers and should be tackled with the support of experienced professionals.
EmployEasily Legal Services is a leading firm of employment law and HR advisors. Our team deliver practical, reliable advice to help employers deal with employee absence from work. We can work with you to design and implement a comprehensive procedure to manage staff absence from work. Our team operate across the central belt in Scotland and throughout England & Wales and have experience of working with employers in a variety of sectors. We take pride in being able to adjust to the particular needs of each employer. Contact us now to find out how we can help you.