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Julie Dunane CG Professional

How are you managing absence in the workplace?

Julie Duane, Solicitor Advocate at CG Professional.

Whether it is long term, short term or intermittent absence, this can have a detrimental impact on an employer’s business.  It is therefore essential that employers understand their obligations in respect of their own absence policies and the steps that they can take to ensure a fair procedure is conducted.

In our experience employers are often reluctant to address the absence in the workplace due to a lack of understanding of the process and/or failing to address the issue early doors, allowing it to go on for a prolonged period. We have therefore pulled together some top tips for employers to consider: –

  1. Ensure your managers or supervisors are aware of how to conduct the Company’s internal processes i.e. welfare meetings, capability meetings etc.  This could involve internal training, external training or even using scenarios to demonstrate the steps that managers should take to address absenteeism in the workplace;
  2. Where an individual has been on long term sick, you may need to obtain a report from occupational health and/or a GP in order to understand the individual’s condition and to determine whether or not there are any reasonable adjustments which can be made in order to encourage or facilitate their return to work.
  3. Where the absence is intermittent, employers should be looking for a pattern or a trend in terms of the absences for example “Mondayitus” or an individual who has perhaps requested leave which has been declined and then subsequently been absent.  On some occasions, there will be genuine cases, but where management is aware of trends and patterns of behaviour this can help nip issues in the bud early doors. 
  4. Equally, where there are signs of absence which is either on an intermittent or long-term basis there could be an underlying reason for this, particularly if the individual has usually been a good performer in the workplace and suddenly there has been a decline.  Sometimes a conversation with the employee to discuss whether there are any personal issues or any support which the company can offer to try and alleviate any stresses and encourage them into the workplace can be useful.  It should not always be the case that because somebody is off that formal action is required.
  5. Where there is a propensity to have intermittent absence, which is not disability-related and, in some circumstances, even when it is, performance improvement plans can be a useful tool for all parties.  It sets reasonable objectives which are agreed between the parties and benchmarks for them to achieve in relation to them returning to the workplace.  This can then be an agreed tool to measure the individual’s performance and hopefully encourage improvement.
  6. Unfortunately, there are cases where absence in the business cannot be sustained or it may be the case that the individual due to medical reasons is unable to continue in that position.  Where this scenario arises, it is important that employers follow a fair procedure.  Individuals should be:
    • invited to a meeting and given sufficient notice;
    • they should be given the right to be accompanied;
    • where relevant, any evidence relied on should be provided to them in advance; and
    • any mitigation which they present should also be considered. 

This process can be deviated from in circumstances of ill health capability, however if you are dealing with the short term absence, subject to the employer following a fair process giving the individual the opportunity to improve  their absence levels and setting key objectives which unfortunately have not been met, there are circumstances in which you can dismiss.

Each case is circumstantial and based on its own facts and merits.  For those reasons, we would actively encourage you to take legal advice in relation to capability proceedings to ensure that you are considering all relevant factors and adopting a fair procedure for both you and the employee. 

If you are currently experiencing absenteeism in the workplace and would like some further advice, please do not hesitate to contact a member of the CG team who would be more than happy to assist.