Following on from our previous blog on absenteeism in the workplace, below is information that employers should consider if they want to take the next steps for persistent absence.
Moving to formal action
In our last blog, we highlighted the importance of having a sickness/absence policy which outlines the procedures should formal action be necessary. The procedures will depend on the type of absence pattern; short term, persistent absence or long term absence.
For short term persistent absence, your policy should set out thresholds for actions, often referred to as trigger points. If an individual’s absence level hits one or more of the trigger points, and informal discussions have failed to resolve the issue, then you may need to move to formal action in accordance with the policy. This will usually involve inviting the individual to a formal review meeting/hearing to discuss the absence and the reasons for it. At any formal meeting, you should remind the person of their right to be by a trade union representative or another workplace colleague.
At this meeting, the reasons for the absence should be discussed in the light of any medical information and/or reports from occupational health. It is also an opportunity to explore any ways in which you can help the individual to maintain good attendance in future by making adjustments in the workplace.
The next steps will depend on the employer’s policy but could include some form of warning in accordance with the policy. This should be recorded in writing with expectations for future attendance and timeframes clearly set out. It is important that the individual fully understands the consequences of future poor attendance.
Long term absence should be managed differently in that the focus is on helping the individual back to work at the earliest opportunity. This may involve temporarily light or adjusted duties or even longer term adjustments. If there is any doubt about the ability of the individual to return to work at all, or within a reasonable timescale, then medical evidence is very important.
On occasion, short term, persistent absence can be due to an underlying long standing health issue or disability in which case the matter should be handled in the same way as for long term absence.
Ultimately, it may be necessary to consider the termination of the employment contract on ill health capability grounds.
The Equality Act 2010 provides certain protections for any individual with a disability as defined by the act. It is very important that managers are aware of all the provisions of the act when dealing with employee attendance issues.
If at any stage you have grounds for believing that the absence is not genuine you may need to consider action under your disciplinary procedure.
We would recommend speaking to the Hibberts’ employment team to ensure you are aware of the relevant legislation, that your policies and procedures meet the law and to seek advice before dismissing an employee.