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The importance of an absence management procedure that is fit for purpose

Published 21 October 2019

The ill-effect of sickness absence can hit employers hard and managing it effectively can help to ensure a business stays in good shape.

It is where the benefit of having a good absence management procedure in place can make a healthy difference.

What this means, what it looks like and how it works are key, and worth taking a closer look at.

Absence is unavoidable and it should be managed in a fair, sympathetic and understanding way.

Absence management should be effective monitoring of all types of absence and it needs to strike the right balance between being supportive to employees with health issues and acting against those who breach the policy.

Absence is a cost factor for any organisation and absorbing the cost of sickness absence can cause problems.

Recent research by the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) and Unum, found that employers want to help staff return to work after a period of sickness absence, but many find doing so difficult and costly (1).

Over one thousand organisations were quizzed as part of the survey, the majority being small to medium enterprises (SMEs). The study revealed 88 per cent believed staff sickness impacted on operations, while 76 per cent claimed staff morale was affected by significant periods of sickness absence.

Absence can be a notable problem, which is why it needs to be managed effectively.

It may seem like the obvious starting point but having a system in place to monitor short and long-term absence will help an employer to understand exactly what it must deal with.

Larger organisations will usually have procedures in place to do so, and for smaller employers it can be more difficult. SMEs can monitor absence using the Health and Safety Executive’s free sickness management tool SART prototype (2)

It is a database tool designed to help evaluate and develop better approaches and resources for effective sickness management

There can be unwanted side-effects with an absence management strategy, and it is something that employers need to be aware of.

Driven by fear of not wanting to fall foul of an absence management policy staff may report for work while ill. There is a reported rise in what is known as ‘presenteeism’ where employees ignore mental and physical problems to attend work (3). It is usually because they feel pressurised to do so.

In such circumstances the employee feeling under the weather is likely to make mistakes, be much less productive and can spread their germs around the office causing more sickness.

To tackle presenteeism, organisations can implement workplace wellness strategies which can help to address both absenteeism and presenteeism. It is a strategy that is designed to support healthy behaviour in the workplace.

Unacceptable employee absence can lead to dismissal. As with any dismissal employers have to be careful to avoid any claims for unfair dismissal (4). An absence management policy that includes the following can help to avoid such situations:

Return to work interview – can help discourage unauthorised and non-genuine sickness absence. It can also be used to welcome employees back, check they are well enough to work, provide updates, discover any support or adjustments that may be needed and confirm the absence record is accurate.

Attendance incentives – can be used to discourage absence. Typically, such schemes can include cash rewards or additional time off with a 100 per cent attendance record. Caution is advised with such schemes to ensure it does not discriminate against those taking time off sick because of a disability or pregnancy-related illness (5)

Training – can benefit both workers and managers on how to cope with stress, mental health problems and other wellbeing issues, which can have a significant impact on absence levels. HSE says over 11 million days are lost at work a year because of stress at work. It has produced a guide on work-related stress and how to manage it (6)

As missed work days can have a significant financial effect on a company’s bottom
line, it is beneficial for businesses of all sizes to have a good absence management strategy to fairly monitor, reduce and respond to excessive absenteeism.


1. Wellbeing critical to business success [Internet] [Cited 14.10.19]

2. SART prototype [Internet] [cited 14.10.19]

3. Presenteeism [Internet] [cited14.10.9]

4. Unfair dismissal [Internet] [Cited 14.10.19]

5. What is discrimination [Internet] [Cited 14.10.19]

6. Stress [Internet] [Cited 14.10.19]

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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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