Persistent Short-Term Absence

Persistent short-term absence has a significant impact on business regarding productivity and morale.

A fine balance must be struck between trying to support employees who have long-term health issues and addressing those who persistently take time off with minor ailments.

Addressing Absence In The Workplace

Before you can address the absence in the workplace, you must first be able to determine whether you are dealing with a potentially long-term condition or persistent short-term absences.

Furthermore, you should also have a clear Absence Management Policy that sets out what employees are entitled to in terms of pay in the event of them being absent, what process they should follow to notify you of their absence and how long they can self-certify before having to provide you with a fit note as a bare minimum.

You may also include provisions such as whether or not you will require them to attend a return to work interview when they are fit for work and also reserve the right to have the employee examined by Occupational Health if the absence is persistent.

You should also make it clear that if an employee does not follow the Absence Notification Procedure, any absences will be deemed as unauthorised and could result in loss of pay and/or formal disciplinary action being taken.

How Much Time Off Is Reasonable?

Ultimately, this question will rest to some degree on the needs of the business; for example, persistent short-term absences may not have the same detrimental impact on large companies as they will on small to medium-sized businesses.

While you are not legally obliged to set out what number of absences will trigger disciplinary action, you may want to consider whether this would provide you with a framework that would enable you to make decisions on when you should or should not take disciplinary action.

What Action Can An Employer Take?

If you have an employee who is persistently absent for short periods of time, and this time off begins to become unreasonable, you can consider taking formal disciplinary action.

You do need to ensure that an employee does not have a potential disability (as defined in the Equality Act 2010) before taking disciplinary action, but the majority of minor ailments, such as colds, stomach upsets and ear or throat infections are unlikely to fall within that definition.

If you do decide that formal disciplinary action is necessary, and you are satisfied that the employee does not have any long-term condition, you should print off the records of their attendance and invite them to attend a formal disciplinary meeting to discuss the issue.

As with any other disciplinary action, you need to ensure that you comply with current legislation and your Policies and Procedures.

Having gone through the formal disciplinary procedure, you need to consider all the evidence available to you, including the explanations that the employee has given for their absences.

If you do not believe their statements to be reasonable (and you are satisfied that there are no underlying long-term conditions that could amount to a disability), you can issue the employee with a first written warning.

As with any other disciplinary issue, your decision should be confirmed in writing giving the employee the right to appeal against the decision to a different (and ideally more senior) member of management.

The warning remains on file in line with your Company Policy (but is typically between 6 – 12 months) and if the employee continues to be persistently absent, you continue to go through this process until all warnings have been exhausted and you reach the point of dismissal.

Any dismissal on this basis must be with notice (which is currently one week for each complete year of service, subject to a maximum of twelve weeks’ notice for twelve years’ service unless the contract states otherwise).


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About the author 

James Rowland

James is the Commercial Director at Neathouse Partners and regularly writes articles surrounding issues in HR & Employment Law. Outside of the office, James is a keen Cricketer, playing in the Cheshire League for Nantwich CC. He also loves going to watch his football team, Crewe Alexandra. Feel free to connect with James on LinkedIn.