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An absence management policy should be fit for purpose

Published 24 June 2019

An absence management policy should be fit for purpose

It is inevitable that employees are going to be off work sick from time to time and managing such an absence badly can really add insult to injury.

Whether it is a short term absence or a long-term one it can have significant implications for any organisation.

Research published last year by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development found the annual costs of sickness absence for UK businesses is estimated at around £554 per employee (1)

According to the Office for National Statistics an estimated 137.3 million working days were lost due to sickness or injury in the UK in 2016, which is equivalent to 4.3 days per worker (2)

Dealing with absence due to sickness requires a fair and effective absence management policy that is designed to address different types of absence.

A short term absence lasts less than a week and is the most common cause of absence; repeated short term sickness absences may follow a pattern; long-term sickness is generally considered an absence lasting four weeks or more; and unauthorised absence is when an employee fails to attend work and does not have a statutory or contractual right, or the employer’s permission, to be absent.

In summary a sickness absence management policy should:

  • Provide a framework to support employees who are unable to work due to illness and help them to return to work as soon as possible.
  • Include details of who employees should they contact if they are going to be absent from work, how they make contact and if they need a doctor's note or certificate to verify their absence
  • Provide details covering pay arrangements and whether the organisation will pay contractual sick pay or Statutory Sick Pay known as SSP, if eligible (3)
  • Inform employees of expected standards of attendance
  • Provide details of the process that will be used to deal with all types of absence and explain what will happen if it ever becomes a problem, and the action that will be taken to address it.

Particular care should be taken in applying the policy to ensure that an employee who has a condition or disability covered by the Equality Act 2010 is not put at a disadvantage. The policy should be regularly reviewed.

An absence management policy should also inform staff if a return to work interview will be conducted. They are an important part of the process and can take place after each illness, but should certainly be carried out when an employee returns to work after a long-term absence.

The interview provides an opportunity for an employer to offer empathy and to gain an understanding about how it can best support an employee.

All employers have a duty of care to their employees, which means that they should take all steps which are reasonably possible to ensure their health, safety and wellbeing (4)

Demonstrating concern for the physical and mental health of staff should not simply be viewed as a legal duty. It can help to build trust and reinforce an employer’s commitment to its employees, help improve staff retention, boost productivity and pave the way for greater employee engagement.

In recent years there has been a drive for employers to do more to ensure the wellbeing of staff, as caring for workplace wellness can have an indirect impact on the bottom line.

A recent suggestion from the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence was that employers should introduce lunchtime yoga and spinning classes, hold stand-up meetings and ensure staircases are ‘clearly signposted and attractive to use’ to stop employees using the lifts (5)

While not all employers will be able to implement such initiatives, thinking about putting a well-being scheme in place is likely to have its benefits.

 “A reputation built on success”

For free employment law advice or if you are affected or want information and support by any of the issues in this article please give us a call. 0333 772 0611


  1. Charted institute and personell and development [Internet] [Accessed on 17.6.19]
  2. ONS [Internet] [Accessed on 17.6.19]
  3. Statutory Sick Pay [Internet] [Accessed on 17.6.19]
  4. Duty of care to employees [Internet] [Accessed on 17.6.19]
  5. National institute [Internet] [Accessed on 17.6.19]

A reputation built on success

For employment law advice or if you are affected or want information and support by any of the issues in this article please give us a call. 


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