As an employer it is imperative that you keep a firm grip upon employee absences, this is not only for the sake of costs incurred to your business, but also the welfare of your staff.
And here are 5 practical tips from our employment law team who represent businesses throughout Wiltshire, Hampshire, Dorset and Somerset – and further afield – from our offices in Salisbury, Andover, Fordingbridge and Amesbury.
1. Keep Proper Records
Every company should keep a record of employee absence. Keeping this record will help you identify any emerging patterns of absence or alert you to a member of staff suffering from a long-term illness. Each separate sector of your business should also keep this record, this will then enable you to compare employee well being across departments. You must remember however that any employee absence records must be managed in light of the Data Protection Act 1998. Any records must be destroyed after 3 years (of the financial year created) and employees should be kept informed if any monitoring is taking place.
If you can see an emerging pattern, which is departmental related, then as an employer you should set upon appropriate investigations into the working environment of that department. Not only this but you should look to your senior members of staff to report on issues within the department, which could be causing the higher levels of absence.
2. Implement Return To Work Interviews
Another good procedure to implement is the ‘return to work interview’. This face-to-face interview should be conducted in private with the employee’s line manager. The interview has several purposes; it establishes exactly why the employee was absent, if they are suffering from a long-term problem and if they are well enough to return to work. It can also provide the employee with a private outlet to complain about their working environment and/or fellow staff members, which incidentally could be causing their absence.
If you do not deal with employee absence at an early stage you run the risk of the following occurring:
- Low staff esteem due to increased workloads in covering the absent colleague
- Agency staff bills being extraordinarily high
- The company failing to reach targets or provide a good service due to a lack of consistent staffing
2. Investigate Properly
In order to deal with an emerging absence pattern there are some steps you can take to ensure that you investigate the problem scrupulously.
- Firstly, you should compare the employee’s absence over your last 3 years of records to establish any recurring pattern.
- Secondly, compare the employee’s absence record to that of the other employee’s within the same department, this may identify a work related issue.
- Lastly, check that the employee does not have an illness which fits the criteria of the Disability Discrimination Act 1995. The area of disability discrimination is particular complex – don’t risk being grounds for a potentially highly expensive disability discrimination claim – take advice from expert employment solicitors first.
3. Keep Communication Channels Open
In the first instance employee absence should be dealt with amicably. Talk to the employee and try to discover the reason for a continued or patterned absence record. Solutions such as flexible working arrangements, changing work location or job description can offer lower cost results for you and the employee.
If no solution can be found or the problem is merely unauthorised absence, then you have the option of disciplining the employee under capability and/or conduct. An approved disciplinary handling procedure should be used at this time.
4. The Disciplinary Process – make sure you know what you’re doing
If you are in any doubt as to the reason for the employee’s absence or the grounds upon which you are starting the disciplinary procedures, then you should seek legal advice immediately from specialist employment solicitors. A dismissal based upon an employee’s absence has to be legal and if it is not you could face an unfair dismissal claim via the Employment Tribunal.
5. Ensure you Have Clear Policies
Perhaps the very simplest step is to make sure that you have clear policies on employee absence. If you don’t and you are not sure where to begin, contact our specialist Employment Solicitors who should be able to provide you with appropriate policies dealing with employee absence at a relatively modest cost.