By Marcus Leach

Businesses which tackle the sick-note culture head on by training managers are proving that the investment pays for itself through falling absenteeism — but small to medium sized businesses (SMEs) are still failing to follow suit.

Two thirds of businesses which set tough targets and managed absenteeism are now able to reduce their overall sick leave, compared with half in 2007.

As a result, overall sick leave has fallen from 6.7 days — on average — per person per year in 2007, to just five days today.

But experts believe these benefits are only being enjoyed by large companies, with as many as two thirds of SMEs still failing to recognise or tackle poor sickness absence rates.

More than a quarter of SMEs leave absence management to line managers not trained in absence handling as an additional task alongside their main job - enabling staff to ‘pull sickies’ whenever and as frequently as they want.

“We have always advised clients that there are laws there to help them tackle absenteeism if only they knew how to use them," Peter Mooney, head of employment law at ELAS, said.

“Too many businesses think the law is on the employee’s side, and that if they take staff to task, they’ll automatically end up in an employment tribunal — that’s not the case.

“Providing you’ve got evidence to back up any allegations, and that you follow correct procedures to make any disciplinary action fair, then businesses can tackle absenteeism and, in some cases, cut sickness levels considerably.”