Managing Absence (Illness or injury)

It’s October and that means clocks changing, temperatures dipping and thoughts start to turn towards winter and all that that holds; standing outside in the cold watching fireworks, late night shopping, Christmas and ah, ah, ah.. achoo… flu season!

So, with all of this going on, should you worry about sickness absence levels within your organisation?

According to figures published in 2014 the UK economy lost 131 million days to absence in 2013 . The most common causes of absence were coughs, colds and flu, but the greatest number of days lost were related to musculoskeletal problems such as neck, back and muscle pain. The CIPD states that in 2014 the average absence rates were 6.6 days per employee with an average cost of absence of £609 per employee per annum, although in the not-for-profit sector this increases to 7.4 days on average per employee, at an average cost of £611 per employee per annum.

Absence can be seen to be a tricky, complex and sometimes sensitive subject that some managers or organisations may be reluctant to address, particularly without appearing to question the genuineness of the sickness absence. Clearly many absences are genuine but the effect of absence on the organisation can be enormous and it is important therefore that the issue of employee absence is effectively and fairly managed, balancing the needs of the organisation and the individual.

Your employees are contractually obliged to attend work consistently and the Employment Rights Act 1996 permits the dismissal of an employee on the grounds of ‘capability’ which includes ill-health. Dismissal can occur when the employer is not able to tolerate the effect of an employee’s absence any longer. In cases of genuine ill-health it is clearly a last resort. As with any type of dismissal, you should ensure that you act reasonably in treating the absence(s) as a sufficient reason to dismiss and in line with your own policies / procedures and the ACAS Code . Where an employee has a disability, you are required to make any reasonable adjustments necessary to enable them to achieve a satisfactory standard of attendance. In all cases it is advisable to seek a medical opinion before reaching your final decision.

Having a documented procedure in which managers are trained is a great place to start in managing attendance at work. Even if you don’t have a written procedure you can still manage your employees’ attendance. Make sure accurate records are kept of every absence so that managers have the right information available to them, discuss the employee’s absence with them after every time, set out clear expectations for the future and ensure managers know where to get expert help from, should they need it.

For a more proactive approach to managing the health and wellbeing of your employees, you will find having a good, healthy and safe working environment helps, and you could also look at other measures such as offering flu jabs or sponsorship for people to take up physical exercise as we have done within Roots HR!

Do you have any other suggestions of proactive ways to improve the health and resilience of your employees? If so, please do comment below (I’ve just been told that I can’t suggest “Cake Friday” as that may not be a healthy suggestion – can’t think why not!).

In the meantime, if you’d like any advice on managing absences within your workplace, contact us – you may be eligible to use our 1 hour free consultancy voucher.

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