It’s inevitable that from time to time your staff will get sick and need to take time off work. But what do you do when you one or several staff members take regular short periods of sickness off?

Here are five quick tips to help you to address and manage the problem effectively.

1. Gather evidence

How do you know that a member of staff has a problem with absence? Is there a pattern? E.g. is it every other Friday or Monday? Is it always before or after a Bank Holiday? Have their absences occurred after a personal change in circumstances e.g. divorce, births of a child, death in the family etc.

Before you can decide that there is a problem, you need to gather your evidence first to prove that either their behaviour has changed or that there has been a consistent problem for some time.

2. Review your policies and procedures

Once you’ve identified that that there is an issue with short-term sickness absence, you need to follow your sickness and absence policy. This policy sets out clearly what you will do step-by-step to try and resolve the issue. Having a policy in place before you have a problem to resolve is always as good idea, as it enables you to treat everyone consistently because you have a framework to work from.

3. Communicate and investigate

Now that you are following your sickness and absence policy, you need to make sure that your staff member knows what the process is.

This is an opportunity for you as employer to find out the cause of these regular short-term absences and see if there is anything that you can do to help resolve the problem. It is also a chance for your employee to explain the situation to you face to face.

Your policy should include the following:

  • Timescales of when the meetings will happen
  • Name of person conducting the meetings
  • Name of minute taker to record the meeting notes
  • Next steps e.g. investigation, getting medical records etc.
  • Review period
  • What will happen next if the problem is not resolved

4. Employer support

If during your meetings and investigations you discover that the absences are for medical reasons e.g. pregnancy or disability, it is your responsibility to ensure that you do not discriminate against them on these grounds.

If the absences are pregnancy illness related, you cannot treat it as regular sickness so cannot enforce any disciplinary action.

If the absences are disability related, then as an employer, you will need to consider if there are any reasonable adjustments that you can make to help reduce the absences. Reasonable adjustments can vary from altering working patterns to buying specialist equipment.

For more examples of workplace reasonable adjustments that you could implement see the Equality and Human Rights Commission website.

Often employers can improve sickness absence rates by encouraging better work/life balance for their employees. This can be done in a number of ways:

  • Providing flexi-time/job-share
  • Having an employee assistance programme in place to support staff
  • Offering remote working
  • Providing mentoring schemes
  • Offering enhance family friendly entitlements

All of these contribute to allowing staff to have healthier work environments which in the long run can reduce the likelihood of recurring sickness absence.

5. Disciplinary action

If there is no medical issue to explain these regular absences and you have provided adequate support to resolve the problem and it still persists, then you should consider disciplinary action. Any disciplinary action that you take needs to follow a strict procedure as laid out in your disciplinary policy.

Quite often short-term absences can be addressed and resolved without needing to implement disciplinary actions. However, it is really important that all employers have workplace policies and procedures to address these issues when they arise.

Effective absence management is about setting specific boundaries in place for everyone. That way your employees know what is expected of them and you as an employer know what to do when they fall short of these expectations.

By Michelle Gyimah, HR Consultant, Equality Pays