How to Handle Frequent Unrelated Absences

August 5, 2016
How to Handle Frequent Unrelated Absences

If you’re using the Bradford Factor to track absence, then you probably already know that it is a pretty fair and objective way to measure the impact of absence patterns based mostly on their frequency.

The Bradford Factor suggests that frequent instances of absence are actually more damaging than infrequent instances – even if the infrequent instances result in a higher number of total days absent. For example, it is more concerning if an employee has five individual days of absence spread over two months, than it is if an employee has one instance of absence lasting seven days over that same period.

So what do you do if you notice an employee who fits this trend of several instances of unrelated absence? Here’s what we recommend.

Finding the Root Cause

This is by far the most important thing you can do if you notice an employee taking lots of “sick days” that seem random and sporadic. Your instinct might be to simply take them down the disciplinary route, as set out in your sickness or absence policy – starting with disciplinary action, and possibly even resulting in dismissal. But this isn’t always the right path.

Frequent sickness episodes may have an underlying cause, and before brutally slamming the door on an employee who exhibits this behaviour, you should make it your responsibility as an employer to find out. Examples of why an employee might be taking frequent leaves of absence might include:

–  Bullying & Harassment. If an employee doesn’t feel happy at work, because of how they are being treated by a colleague, they may be inclined to avoid work altogether.

– Disability. If an employee is claiming sickness on a frequent basis, but cannot explain their sickness properly, then it is entirely possible that they are suffering from a serious illness, or have an undiagnosed disability.

Before you charge down the disciplinary route, you should have a private conversation with the employee in question to see if you can help them. If you suspect (or if the employee tells you) that bullying is taking place, then remember that you have a responsibility as an employer to prevent this from happening. If, on the other hand, you suspect that the employee might have an underlying cause that could be a disability under the Equality Act 2010, you should encourage them to see a medical expert, and give them time out to do this. Make sure that you reassure them that if they are diagnosed with an illness or disability, you will support them through it.

Can’t Find an Underlying Cause?

Sometimes, there is no hidden explanation, and frequent cases of absence are simply a sign that an employee is not happy in their job, and/or cannot be bothered to show up for work. If this is the case, it is important that you follow your company policy – if possible, talk to the employee and see if you can help them change their attitude to their job; but in reality, if this is a common problem, you might have bigger issues with your employer brand that you should be focusing on.

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