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Managing short-term staff absences

23rd Apr 2007 - 00:00
By Clare Fowler, Senior Solicitor, Blake Lapthorn Tarlo Lyons
Employees' short-term sickness can cause a real headache for employers too. Whether it's a touch of flu or one too many at a party you need to have procedures in place to monitor levels of absence and enforce company procedures. Care needs to be taken in monitoring sickness levels as this kind of information about employees falls under the definition of Sensitive Personal Data in the Data Protection Act 1998. However, if done appropriately regular monitoring can help you treat employees consistently across your business and can identify particular problems such as higher levels of sickness on Mondays, Fridays and the days before and after periods of holiday. You should ensure that employees are familiar with the provisions of your sickness absence policy, in particular the need to report sickness to a manager as soon as possible and to keep that person informed, providing a doctor's note should the illness continue beyond seven days. You should ensure that your policy on sickness absence and sick pay is clear and meets the needs of the business, and that employees know where to find any forms you require them to complete to self-certify their absence. Persistent short-term absence can ultimately be a fair reason for dismissal, on the ground of conduct, capability or some other substantial reason. Before reaching that stage you must follow a procedure of investigation and warnings. You could consider introducing return to work interviews for all employees returning from any length of sickness absence that are applied consistently and are rigorous, requiring employees to explain their absence to a trained manager or personnel officer. These interviews may help to identify whether there is an underlying problem other than sickness causing the absence, such as bullying or harassment, or whether the employee is suffering from stress. They could also reveal an underlying medical condition causing the absence. If there is such a condition and it amounts to a disability within the meaning of the Disability Discrimination Act extra care must be taken to ensure that the employee is not treated less favourably than others who do not have the condition and that reasonable adjustments are made to their job to accommodate the effects of their condition as far as possible. Whether the condition is a disability or not, in situations where there is an underlying condition causing the absences a professional medical report from the employee's GP or specialist may help to determine any adjustments you could make and give you an idea of whether or not any improvement in attendance can be expected. If you do identify a pattern to absences of an individual employee you must then consider whether this should be addressed using your disciplinary procedure or should be treated as a capability issue. The key to this decision is a discussion (in addition to the return to work interviews) with the employee to establish the reason or reasons for their absences. They must be made aware of your concerns and given the opportunity to address them. They must also be clear about the improvement expected of them and the likely consequences if they fail to improve their attendance. When considering dismissal whether under a disciplinary or capability procedure you must follow at least the statutory minimum dismissal procedure and take into account not only the nature, length and effect of the absence on your business but also any recent and likely future improvement in attendance, past service with the company and the effect of continuing absence on other employees. For further information, contact or telephone 02392 530387 Weblink:
Written by
PSC Team