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How do I deal with an employee who is regularly absent?

View profile for Ruth Rogers
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How do I deal with an employee who is regularly absent?

One of my employees is regularly absent for various different reasons. It’s never for very long – a day here, a day there – but he’s a key member of staff and it’s disrupting my business. It’s also annoying to other members of staff who have to pick up his work when he’s away. Is there anything I can do about this?

Understand the reasons for the absences

First of all, you need to understand the reasons for the absences, and that means having a frank conversation with your employee. Once you understand the reasons for the absences (even though they seem unconnected at first glance, when you dig deeper you may actually discover that they are related), you can consider how to take appropriate action. However, it’s always best if you can prepare your business for problems such as this before they happen. So, ask yourself the following questions:

Do you have an absence policy?

The best way to deal with absences is to have an absence policy – or a suite of policies if you prefer, which deal with sickness absence, time off for dependants, time off to deal with emergencies, time off for compassionate leave and parental leave. By publishing a policy to your staff, you can signal to staff at the outset of their employment that you have high expectations for attendance. By following your policy, you can ensure that you deal with absences effectively and consistently across the workforce, which is essential in ensuring that you are acting fairly.

Do you monitor absence properly?

It is important that you monitor all absences, as this can help you to identify any suspicious patterns or any potential problems. By recording absence data for all staff, you will also be ensuring that you are treating all your staff in the same way and not singling out any one in particular, and you are potentially gathering reliable evidence should you need to take formal action against your employee.

Do you record the reasons for absence?

It is essential that you understand the reasons for your employees’ absences, so you can understand if the absences are related, or if they suggest that the employee has a disability. You should record the reasons for absence (bear in mind, sickness absence data is highly sensitive and should be kept secure and confidential), as, again, you may need to rely on this information if you decide to take action against an employee. It is advisable for line managers to conduct ‘Return to Work’ interviews with staff, this has two advantages: firstly, you can find out the root cause of the absence; secondly, employees may be put off taking an unnecessary absence from work if they know that they will be questioned (albeit gently – it should not be a cross-examination!) about it on their return.  

Be careful to avoid acting in a way that might be deemed discriminatory

Having the above measures in place will ensure that you are in the best possible position to take action against your employee, but before you decide to take action against an employee it is important that you first consider whether their absences are related to a pregnancy or disability (including even the disability of another person, if the absences are related to caring for a disabled person). In these cases, you must be very careful to make sure that any action you take cannot be seen as being discriminatory. It is essential that you seek specialist legal advice if you are unsure, as awards for discrimination in the Employment Tribunal are uncapped and can amount to hundreds of thousands of pounds depending on the circumstances. Even where there can be no valid claim for discrimination levelled against you, if your employee has been employed for more than two years (or one year and fifty-one weeks to be precise), then you do need to make sure that you have followed a fair process in dismissing them, and that you have a good reason to do so.

At Harrowells, our employment team can draft effective policies for you, tailored specifically to the needs of your business, and we can assist in the implementation of these measures in your workplace. We can also provide specialist advice on how best to deal with a problem employee whilst protecting your interests and minimising the risk of a claim.

Our articles are intended for general information purposes only and are not a substitute for professional advice tailored to your specific circumstances. We are always very happy to discuss any plans, issues or concerns you may have and to clarify how we might be able to help. We cannot accept responsibility for any loss as a result of acts or omissions taken in respect of this article.