Share Article: Dealing with absent employees

Long term or frequent absence can cause significant problems for businesses. Tackling absence head on is therefore important, but it is essential to tread carefully and follow a proper process in order to avoid leaving the organisation open to Tribunal claims.

The first task is to determine the reason for absences and to ensure that any action taken is proportionate. Where an employee has a long term health condition, it is important to bear in mind the duty to make reasonable adjustments as well as the potential risks of indirect discrimination and outlawed discrimination arising from disability. There are protections from dismissal or “detriment” for taking leave for various family reasons, including maternity or paternity leave, parental leave and time off when a dependant is ill, there is an interruption to childcare arrangements or a problem at school. There is no qualifying period of service for claims made under the Equality Act or out of legislation granting leave to parents and carers.

Frequent short term absence can cause at least as much disruption as long term periods away from the workplace. An absence policy can help reduce frequent absence by making expectations clear as to

  • A commitment from the organisation to reduce short term absence
  • Reporting requirements when employees are sick: when and to whom to report
  • Trigger points when absence will be investigated

Frequent absence may be coincidental or may be as a result of a long term health condition. It is important therefore to investigate the underlying causes of absence before any action is taken. Medical evidence may be needed. It is permissible however to warn employees that their frequent absence is of concern. Dismissal after a series of warnings may be considered fair if a proper process has been followed.

Where employees are absent long term, the key is to try to establish how long they are likely to be off and whether any adjustments will be needed when they return. Medical evidence is crucial, either from an occupational health specialist or the employee’s treating doctor. If there is no likelihood of returning in the foreseeable future, dismissal may be considered fair.

We can help with

  • Drafting an absence policy
  • Taking an employee through an absence process
  • Appeals by an employee against a decision by taken about their absence
  • Tribunal claims arising from absence

Contact Louise Taft on 020 7935 3522 or if you have any issues with absent employees.

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