• bearhr

Absence Vs. Productivity

Updated: Dec 2, 2019

Managing Absence in Small Businesses

Employee Absence can be a nightmare for any business, especially at this time of year, but small businesses tend to get hit harder as they have less people to take the strain and provide cover.

Genuine absence will always happen of course and no responsible employer would really want an employee coming to work when they aren't well enough to be there.

But how do you know the difference? And is there anything you can do about it?

The first thing you need is an Absence Policy that clearly sets out your rules and procedures around absence and makes the employee accountable for their own absence. Think about things like how you want the employee to report their absence; how you want them to prove genuine illness; how you will manage the absent employee; what procedure you will follow when the individual comes back to work; what you are going to pay them whilst they are off; how you are going to determine when someone's absence becomes a cause for concern; and how you will deal with it when it does.

Reporting Absence

If you are still a small team, chances are you know your staff well and trust them implicitly but, as your business grows, this may not always be the case so plan ahead! By making the employee responsible for reporting their own absence and by making a phone call the only acceptable method of doing this (under most circumstances) you remove their ability to hide behind a partner, parent or friend doing this on their behalf and being able to do so anonymously by text message or email - make it your policy that they have to speak to you (or the person you are entrusting with absence management.)

Proving Genuine Illness

Is Your Employee Really Ill?

Where an employee is off for more than seven calendar days (including non-working days) you should ask them to obtain a MED3, more commonly called Fit Notes or Sick Notes, from their GP. This should give you details of the illness or condition causing their absence, how long they will be unfit for work and whether they are totally unfit for work or if they could do some work if you were able to accommodate certain temporary adjustments - for example, reduced hours or light duties are most commonly requested. You are under no obligation to make these adjustments but obviously sometimes its better to have the person in work even if they aren't fulfilling their full role.

Where the absence is for less than seven days, the employee should complete a self-certificate form to provide you with details of their illness - make sure they do actually specify their illness as people often write things like "not well" or "ill" or "sick" which will probably mean nothing to you or them in six months time if you are concerned with their absence level.

Managing the Absent Employee

There's little point in keeping in touch with someone who is only off work for a few days but there is no reason why you can't contact them and if the absence is going to become longer term then it is well recommended - employees who are off sick for a month or longer are much less likely to return to work. Consider making it your policy to speak to an employee by phone after 2 weeks and invite them into work or ask if you can visit them at home if they are still off after a month. Once that contact is made you can agree how frequently you will keep in touch but this should probably be at least monthly.

It's worth considering a clause that will allow you to seek a medical report from their doctor (further specific consent will be required at the time) or that means you can ask them to see your company doctor or Occupational Health Specialist.

Return to Work

Whether the employee has been off for one day or several weeks or more, everyone should have a Return to Work Interview when they come back from sickness absence. In most cases you should treat this a a welfare meeting - are they well enough to back at work, do they have any symptoms that could be contagious, are they taking any medication and, if so, are there any side effects that mean you should consider temporarily changing their duties for safety reasons (driving, operating machinery etc), do they expect to need to attend any future appointments in relation to their recent illness? And don't forget to welcome them back and update them on any changes that may have taken place whilst they've been off.

Return to Work Interviews - A Welfare Meeting

Document all of this, as well as full details of the reason for their absence, and make sure both you and the employee signs this. When someone's absence becomes a cause for concern this information will be invaluable and it will safeguard you and the business if someone fails to tell you their medication makes them drowsy and an accident occurs.

Sick Pay

Most businesses only pay Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) which is paid after the third consecutive day of sickness. Your employees will no doubt appreciate it should you decide to offer Occupational Sick Pay (OSP) but you should definitely take advice before you implement this.

Excessive Absence

The Bradford Factor is one way to calculate when absence is too high and it uses a formula that includes the number of days absence and number of absences:-

Number of Periods of Absence x Number of Periods of Absence x Total Number of Days Absence

A Trigger Point is another, and much simpler, way of monitoring this - a trigger point system sets out that a certain number of absences within a defined period of time is the trigger, for example, 4 periods of absence in 12 months - remember it's a maximum not a target!

Whichever method you choose, make sure that all sickness absence is recorded so you can be confident that your data is correct. But don't forget the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) when keeping records of absence - any data relating to medical issues is classed as sensitive data and the rules around handling and storage of this type of data is very strict. You may want to consider keeping medical certificates and return to work records separately to your normal HR files if other managers have access to these files and if you publish absence data in any way, you should make sure this is anonymised first so individuals cannot be identified.

Record absence relating to maternity or disability separately and we suggest not including these absences in calculations without taking advice first.

Dig into your absence data - do you have employees who tend to be absent on a Friday or Monday more than any other day? Most businesses do! But any pattern should be a flag - the employee who has good attendance but when he is off it is always a Wednesday, may have caring issues. If you operate a shift system, watch out for the employee who's absence always falls on a particular shift type.

Rather than penalising these employees you may be able to increase Employee Engagement by identifying patterns like this, understanding there cause if there is one, and making adjustments to accommodate.

Where an employee is just taking the p**s you may be able to consider performance management which may lead to their dismissal. Even where excessive absence has a genuine background you may be able to use your Capability Policy to address this from which, again, dismissal may eventually result but please take some advice before starting this course of action.

If you need advise on absence within your business, or indeed any other HR issue, contact us to speak to an expert HR Consultant,