Effective absence management involves finding a balance between providing support to help employees with health problems stay in and return to work, and taking consistent and firm action against employees who are considered to be malingering.
Recruiting ‘best fit’ employees
Recruiting staff who are unsuitable for roles or simply do not like the work causes lack of motivation leading to absences. Ensure that you have an up-to-date job description (include any physical requirements) and an accurate person specification which details the essential criteria needed to carry out the role effectively. Once a suitable candidate has been selected do acquire references.
Pre-employment health checks
You shouldn’t ask questions relating to a potential employee’s medical conditions during the recruitment process unless this directly relates to an essential criteria of the job role, such as heavy lifting in a warehouse or caring environment. However, once an offer has been made and accepted, you may seek information about your candidate’s health and medical conditions so that you are able to assess what, if any, actions may assist the employee and minimise any disruption caused by absence due to an existing medical condition.
Ensure that your new employees are made aware of your procedures for notifying absence, and make it clear what standards of attendance (and time keeping) you expect. If you are concerned about absences during the probationary period, formally extend this period (before its expiry), explain your concerns to the employee and set out clearly what level of attendance is required.
Notification of absence
Implement clear rules on the notification of absence which are communicated to all staff. These should state the time and manner in which an employee should contact you if he/she is to be absent for any reason, who the employee should contact to report sickness, when a medical certificate is required (usually after seven calendar days) and what documentation should be completed to self-certify.
Ensure that your record keeping is accurate and up to date. The information must be kept confidential and secure. Record: the dates and duration of the absence; the nature of the absence; whether it was notified in line with your rules; whether the employee sought medical advice; whether the absence is properly certified with a self-certification form or fit note.
Spotting the warning signs
Short-term and long-term absences should usually be handled differently. An employee with an on-going illness that results in long-term absence should be shown empathy and understanding, even if the end result is an ill-health dismissal. On the other hand it is important to have effective interventions to manage frequent short-term absences. Return to work interviews can help identify problems at an early stage. Disciplinary action may also be taken for high levels of short-term absences and should be consistently and fairly applied.
Handling mental health issues
It is often difficult to identify mental health issues, including depression, stress, anxiety, neurosis as well as alcohol and drug dependency. If the employee’s performance is affected, the disciplinary route is probably not appropriate. In cases of concern, the most important thing is to offer support and guide the employee towards suitable professional help.
Taking medical advice
Finally, if you are contemplating dismissal, we would always advise that you obtain an up to date medical report (from a GP or occupational health advisor) before you make your decision, especially if you suspect that the employee may be classed as disabled. This applies even to the dismissal of those still in their probationary periods. Such medical reports are an essential part of a fair dismissal process.
About the author
Terry Edney FCIPD is the CEO of BusinessHR who provide a comprehensive HR support service to SME clients from a wide range of industries. Terry and his team provide a business orientated service comprising a review of HR policies, HR advice line and interactive HR website in order to reduce risk, save time and allow clients to focus on their business. You can find out more about a cost saving HR compliance service from BusinessHR at www.businesshr.com.