Absence Management: Dealing with short-term absence
Identifying the problem
Employees will have the occasional short-term absence due to minor ailments. However, cause for concern can arise where the frequency of such absence is considered to be excessive. The pattern may be a symptom of problems such as job dissatisfaction or capability, inter-employee disputes, personal domestic problems, general debility or the effects of stress.
No SME should underestimate the cost of absence to their business so it is essential that your business has a mechanism for monitoring and measuring attendance - contact one of the Alcumus HR Consultancy team for advice.
Who should conduct the investigation?
Investigations should begin as soon as a concern has been identified and can be conducted by the individual’s line manager.
Planning the investigation
The investigating officer should:
- Ensure they understand the company’s absence management procedure.
- Ensure fairness and consistency.
- Consider what information they will need.
- Consider how they will get this information – think about the availability of records.
- Remember that this is a fact-finding exercise only, it is not a disciplinary sanction and no decision will be made about any disciplinary sanctions at the investigation stage.
The role of the investigating officer
The investigating officer should:
- Promptly gather all evidence.
- Approach the subject with care and sensitivity.
- Analyse key information which could include self-certification forms, fit notes, return to work forms, medical reports, health questionnaire, application form etc.
- Analyse statistics, i.e. individual absence rates compared to company average, average number of spells of absence.
- Consider the individual’s previous history of attendance.
- Maintain confidentiality.
- Where applicable, gather further information, especially if it appears that there is an underlying medical problem which could be contributing to the unsatisfactory absence rate.
- Where applicable, pass all records from the investigation stage to the Chair for the disciplinary hearing.
- Ensure all records from the investigation stage are stored safely and securely.
The investigation: interviewing the employee
- Ensure that the employee is made aware of what the concerns are and what is being investigated.
- Ensure that the employee understands that this is the investigation stage and, whilst no decisions will be made regarding sanctions, it will be decided whether to proceed to a disciplinary hearing.
- Ask the employee to sign their statement (if provided) and/or notes of your meeting.
The purpose of the investigation interview will be to:
- Present to the employee the information relating to the absences, exploring whether, to their knowledge, there are any underlying causes including work-related issues.
- Discuss the likelihood of the reason for absence recurring.
- Explain management’s concern at the current level of absence and operational impact on team.
- Discuss possible ways of minimising the amount of time off.
- Allow the employee to state their own views on the situation and request any further help or advice if necessary. Management should reasonably consider points put forward by the employee at this stage.
You must not:
- Infer blame or imply you have decided on the outcome of any subsequent disciplinary hearing.
- Issue any disciplinary sanction.
Deciding whether to proceed to a disciplinary hearing
Before deciding, the investigating officer should:
- review all evidence;
- consider any mitigation from the employee; and
- consider if there are any underlying health issues. If so, seek advice from your Alcumus HR Consultancy team.
Possible outcomes of the investigation
The appropriateness of various courses of action will depend on the outcome of the investigation, however may include the following:
- Continued monitoring of attendance/absence and further reviews.
- Informing the employee what degree of improvement is required and under what timescale.
- The production of certified medical certificates for every occasion of sickness absence.
- Referral to an Occupational Health Practitioner for an OH report or an external agency or counsellor.
- Discussion and implementation of work-related changes where appropriate.
- Consider the possibility of alternative employment if the duties or the working environment is a contributory factor. Assistance should be sought from an Occupational Health Practitioner in agreeing suitable redeployment.
- Consider temporarily adjusting working patterns if personal circumstances are affecting attendance (e.g. financial problem, relationship breakdown, bereavement, illness of close friend/relative, accommodation problems, childcare difficulties and other work related issues which may cause emotional stress).
- Proceed to a disciplinary hearing if the level of absence has exceeded satisfactory attendance levels.
Keep a record/file note of the discussions.