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Handling Short Term Persistent Absence

It’s just the odd day here and there. You didn’t even notice until a colleague pointed it out to you. Now you have noticed it though – you’re fully aware that you have a team member who is persistently off work with short term illnesses like colds and tummy bugs. No longer than one or two days at a time but hey, those one or two days can soon add up!

How do you handle it?

It can be tricky.  Especially if when they are at work, they are doing a great job.  It’s easy to turn a blind eye to them having the odd day off here and there if they’re otherwise a “good” employee.

Our best advice is to think of this scenario more as a welfare issue than a disciplinary issue – we think this will help you to approach it in the right way.

What steps should you take?

Communication is the key to every HR challenge, and this is no different.  There are several possibilities.  This employee has always been the type to take time off, suggesting they don’t fully understand what is expected of them or this has been a more recent situation suggesting something has changed in their life.

In either case you need to gather the evidence to back up your impending discussion.  Get dates, number of occasions and the reasons for time off.  If this isn’t available, you can still have a conversation, but you may end up in a weaker position.  We have tips on how to make sure you continually gather this information about every employee at the end of this article.

Discuss your concerns with the employee. Lay out the facts and ask for their comments.  What are the reasons they are taking lots of time off?  Has something changed in their life or within the workplace that has changed their behaviour?

Done in the right way, this conversation can elicit the reasons for the behaviour and changes that can be made to reduce the impact.

There may of course become a time when you might have to take a formal approach and that should be robust enough to take you all the way to dismissal if necessary.

Top Tips:

  • Carry out return to work interviews with every employee after every instance of sickness absence, even if it is one day. Return to work interviews will help you to recognise patterns and elicit potential underlying reasons for absence.
  • Create a system by which the business can record all absence, this could be a spreadsheet, but you could deploy an online HR administration system – ask us about the system we like to use!

The Simple Take is: Communicate with your team and take action rather than ignoring what appears to be the odd day off here and there.

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