Absence management fundamentals

Last updated: September 1st, 2023

First published: September 1st 2023
Last updated: September 1st 2023

Absence management is one of the most underappreciated aspects of HR.

When handled correctly, an effective absence management system minimises disruption and contributes to consistent levels of productivity.

Failure to deal with employee absences

Repeated employee absences can be frustrating for line managers who need to reallocate the absentee’s duties.

Colleagues likewise quickly grow tired of picking up a team member’s slack if they suspect the reasons for repeated absences are not genuine.

It’s important therefore for HR staff and line managers to know how to deal effectively with all types of absence.

Start with an absence policy

First of all, the best way to manage all HR issues consistently is to draft a policy that you can put into practice in your organisation.

An absence policy should outline how you manage sickness-related absences and the different rules that apply to handling:

  • Short-term absences.
  • Long-term absences.
  • Unauthorised absences.

Don’t forget employer statutory sick pay obligations

As of 1 January 2023, all employers need to comply with the Sick Leave Act 2022 which establishes the statutory sick pay scheme.

The policy dealing with sick leave needs to set out the relevant rules around who qualifies for statutory sick pay and how employees can avail of it.

Communicate the policy effectively

An absence policy is only useful if staff are aware of it. You should be sure to communicate the policy in a way that all employees understand it.

If employees aren’t aware of the rules around how each type of absence is managed or the procedure to follow, confusion will ensue.

Referring staff to an absence policy when an issue arises helps you to develop a consistent approach to handling these scenarios.

Hold return to work meetings

A simple way to make employees accountable for any absences is to conduct ‘return to work’ meetings.

Scheduling a meeting on the day the employee returns to work after an absence allows you both to catch up on what caused the absence and identify any issues that may need to be managed. The purpose is not to accuse the employee of any wrongdoing but to ensure that no further issues are expected.

Line managers should therefore approach these meetings with an open mind and offer assistance if the employee has any personal or work-related problems that some workplace supports could alleviate.

These meetings are doubly effective as they give you an opportunity to ask the employee to account for their absence and should the employee disclose any issues, you can also discuss any supports that might help them address the problem.

Record keeping

You should also keep good, accurate records as part of your absence management system.

When you keep historic records of absence, you will be in a position to identify patterns. For instance, does a certain employee always call in sick on Fridays? Or do certain employees fail to return from annual leave when they’re scheduled to?

Keeping good records makes these patterns easy to spot and arms you with evidence if you need discuss a questionable absence record with a particular employee.

As with the return-to-work meeting, discussions with an employee who has a pattern of absence need to be approached with an open mind.

A pattern of absence may be evidence of a work-related or personal issue that the employee needs help with. So be prepared for the possibility of both offering support or discussing disciplinary action as the circumstances demand.

Expert HR assistance on absence management

Absence management is one of the most underappreciated aspects of effective HR.

To find out more about how to operate an effective absence management system in your workplace, speak to a Graphite HR expert now on 01 886 0350.

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