AM Online

Absence makes the heart grow fonder or perhaps departure to the blue yonder

Absence and in particular sickness absence is a difficult area to manage in the best of organisations.

The whole issue is the balance between being fair for genuine reasons for absence e.g. ‘real’ sickness and disciplining those that abuse their situation by lying about sickness and other potential reasons for absence.

It is important to measure absence and sickness to give an objective view of an employee’s performance. Such information should be monitored to establish whether the absence is short term certificated/uncertificated, long-term sickness, or unauthorised. It is always important to carry out return-to-work interviews. They can be very informative and if nothing else, show that you have observed the absence.

It is also important to have a detailed absence/sickness policy. This should also include the consequences of not complying with the policy e.g. when disciplinary measures will not be taken. The policy may set limits or numbers of days absence but this can only be considered part of the policy, which should also include what procedures will be followed before dismissal results.

If an employee genuinely suffers long-term sickness absence then it should be considered a performance matter (rather than misconduct). The fair procedure should comprise:

  • initial investigation and appraisal of absence records
  • ongoing contact to review progress
  • remind employees of time limits when action is necessary and potential risk to continuing employment
  • obtain medical reports (with the employees consent)
  • consider whether adjustments can be made, e.g. reduced hours, varying work patterns, adjust job duties etc. This is a legal necessity in the case of a disability
  • carry out the standard statutory procedures if dismissal is a consideration

    If absence is related to drug/alcohol addiction then it should be considered as either an illness or conduct depending on whether the employee accepts or not they have a problem, or are prepared to seek help.

    In certain cases employees simply leave work, perhaps after an argument, and no contact can be made. As with all absence situations, dismissal can be considered unfair unless the employer has acted reasonably.

    In such situations it is prudent to put in writing three times a request for an explanation of the absence and in the end a dismissal meeting should be held with sufficient notice but in the absence of the employee if necessary. The outcome and right of appeal should be sent to the employee.

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