Absence management and why it’s important

Written by Martha Mitchell
1 December, 2021
absence managment text with empty office behind

Why absence management is important

Absence management is very important and can have a huge impact on businesses which can negatively affect continuity, performance, morale, and output. Absences are serious and need to be dealt with.  We know that repeated, short-term absences can be incredibly frustrating for employers. 

What is an absence management policy?

An absence management policy is an effort to reduce employee absences through company wide programmes and policies.

Where an employee has short-term, repeated absences many employers may wish to rely upon the disciplinary procedure to deal with these, however doing so could result in an employee being able to claim either constructive or unfair dismissal.* 


Why can I not use the Disciplinary Procedure in relation to Absence Management?

The ACAS Code of Conduct on Disciplinary and Grievances in the Work Place specifically states the following:

“Disciplinary situations include misconduct and/ or poor performance. If employers have a separate capability procedure they may prefer to address performance issues under this procedure. If so, however, the basic principles of fairness set out in this Code should still be followed, albeit that they may need to be adapted”

Being absent from work does not amount to misconduct.  Unfortunately, sometimes people become unwell and are unable to attend work, sometimes an absence can be legally justified (more in the red flag section below), the disciplinary policy is not a “cure-all”.

If however, an employee has lied about the reason for their absence you may be able to discipline them.  For example, an employee who claims to be off work because of a bad back, but is later discovered to have played rugby during their period of absence could be disciplined because they lied about their illness, the lie is the misconduct.

How do I reduce absenteeism for absence management?

Sadly, sometimes you simply cannot stop an employee from being absent from work, but there are certain things that can be done to try and reduce the regularity of this.  

We advise all of our clients to actively manage absences, this doesn’t simply mean that you monitor absences and record them on a spreadsheet.  Employers should carry out return to work meetings as soon as possible after an absence.  This should delve into the reason for the absence, the causes, the symptoms and what can be done to try and mitigate them. 

Employers should also bear in mind that they have a duty of care to their staff.   Part of this duty is identifying and dealing with possible risks to employees. By removing risks that could cause physical harm, employers are actively working to reduce the possibility of absences.

Employers should also consider the mental health of their employees.   The Office for National Statistics reported that in 2018/19, stress, depression or anxiety accounted for 54% of all working days lost due to ill health so monitoring stress or burnout would be a sensible approach.  You can access our useful burnout guide here to identify and try to remove employee burnout. 

How do I deal with absenteeism for absence management?

Even employers who actively work to manage and reduce absences can have one or two employees with high levels of absence.  

We advise all of our clients to implement an absence management procedure.  This procedure has been designed by Employment Law Solutions to effectively reduce absences, by ensuring that absences have consequences.  The procedure is similar to the disciplinary policy but is significantly different as it does not rely upon misconduct.  The absence management process is a formal process that takes an employee with a high level of absence through a series of meetings and cautions which could ultimately result in dismissal.  This procedure is ideal for those instances of absences that are considered short-term.

Successful and effective implementation of this procedure reduced a client’s annual agency worker bill from approximately £1,000,000 per annum to £250,000 as repeat offenders were moved out of the business and those who took advantage of the system realised there were consequences to ‘pulling a sicky’.  The successful and effective implementation of this policy also reduced our clients’ risk in relation to litigation from disciplining staff who had not committed any form of misconduct.

How do I deal with employees who have been off for a long period?

Employees who have been absent for a lengthy period, generally those with more acute illnesses, cannot be dealt with under the disciplina

ry process unless of course there is some element of misconduct.  

Where an employee has had a long-term absence they would fall under the formal capability procedures.  Although this procedure can be quite lengthy, it safeguards the business against disability discrimination risks and ensures that the employee is treated fairly and properly.

Where do I need to be careful when dealing with absences?

There are two main areas where you should be cautious.

Firstly, employees are permitted a reasonable amount of time off in certain circumstances to provide emergency care for dependants.  The employee is only permitted to take a reasonable amount of time off which is unpaid, but it does apply to a wide range of circumstances and a wide range of people can be classed as dependants.  The best thing to do is to take advice, this will ensure that you do not treat someone less favourable for relying upon a statutory right.

Secondly, where there is illness there is the risk of disability.  Employment law requires that we apply a three-stage test to establish disability, although all three elements of the test must be established to prove disability it is, in reality, quite a low hurdle.  Employers must ensure that they do not discriminate against an employee because of either the disability or anything arising from it.

Absences can have a huge impact on a business, but the impact of not dealing with them properly can be even worse, even more, costly in terms of cash, reputation, and time.

Employment Law Solutions offer Employment Law advice and can assist with your contracts and handbooks. By offering a monthly retainer service you are able to benefit from legal advice and employment contract reviews 24/7, 365 days, all while spreading the cost over 12 monthly payments.

*Circumstances permitting

Contact us for more absence management advice

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