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Chamber HR News – Dealing with a Short-Term ‘Sickie’ Culture August 6, 2007

Posted by liverpoolchamber in Business.
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The Problem

It is the age-old problem of the employee who is regularly absent with a variety of different ailments. You know the impact that this can have on the workforce if this allowed to get out of hand which, sadly, it can where management fail to deal with it firmly but fairly.

The direct approach could be adopted by visiting their house and drenching them with cold water to encourage them to get their back off the bed, as well as cure that night-before hangover, or you could adopt a more reasonable counselling approach. This approach, whilst often derided, can work if it is followed up with a pragmatic approach to dealing with backsliders, through the disciplinary process.


The Impact

There is nothing more demoralising for the workforce than for them to see someone getting away with ‘bucking the system’, so it is essential that a consistent approach be followed. It is estimated that the average cost per employee is £434 each year. Short term sickness amounts to 80% of all absences and comprise 62% of lost time. You can appreciate how serious this can be to a small business. Continual short-term absences create an undue impact on the other staff who have to cover for absences and can then lead to more sickness absence. There is the problem of staff rotas and availability, which may have a substantial impact on delivery to the customer with consequent lost business and reduction in profit.

The Solutions

One solution, albeit drastic, has already been suggested, but in all seriousness is not recommended! Management become frustrated and stressed by certain employees taking excessive short absences. The best way to reduce the stress to management and ensure that the problem is dealt with effectively and fairly, is to put in place a sound absence procedure.

  •    Train the manager in how to communicate to persistently absent employees – (Please see the Chamber of Commerce or Qdos Consulting for information and help on finding courses available).
  •    Empower your line managers to deal with the situation – give them the tools to identify the malingerers and follow through with a fair process.
  •    Introduce ‘return to work’ interviews. This enables managers to understand the reasons for any absence. Managers have the chance to identify any underlying problems and deal with them.
  •    Well-trained managers can identify the future problems and put in place schemes to prevent.
  •    Put in place the mechanisms to allow managers to commence the disciplinary route.
  •    Consider the use of occupational health services to deal with absences. Speaking to employees whilst on sick leave to better understand the nature of their illness.
  •    Review any company sick pay scheme and consider the end of any discretionary payment arrangements.

The data protection law provides employees with certain rights, in respect of data, which is held by their employer and that there are regulations and procedures on collecting and keeping employment records, including sickness and absence records, equal opportunities monitoring and discipline, grievance and dismissal information.

Failing To Attend Work

There are frequent cases where an employee fails to come into work and fails to make contact to explain the reason for their absence but what can and what should an employer do about it?

The absence is technically unauthorised and unpaid but you cannot assume that the employee has resigned merely because they do not turn up for work or make any form of contact directly or through a friend.

You should contact the employee explaining that their absence is unauthorised and unpaid and they should make contact immediately on receipt of the letter. You need to ensure that the letter is sent by recorded delivery to ensure receipt.

If after having sent the letter and checking on receipt there is still no contact you would normally require the employee to attend a disciplinary hearing. It is best to make some enquiries, where possible, to ensure that the employee is still living at the last known address you have on record.

If the employee fails to respond to that letter then a second should be sent rearranging the date and this time explaining that the employee’s actions amount to potential gross misconduct. The letter should go on to warn the employee that if they fail to attend or make contact, a decision will be taken in their absence and a potential outcome of the disciplinary hearing is termination of their employment.

Employers need to ensure that they do not act hastily and that they follow a fair procedure.

To discuss any specific absence issues, you should be contacting the ChamberHR employment advice line provided by Qdos Consulting, the service is a free benefit to Liverpool Chamber Members and can be contacted on 02920 349614.

If you have not received your ChamberHR website log in details or you are a new members and would like to register to use the service please contact the membership team by email at membership@liverpoolchamber.org.uk or by telephone on 0151 27 1234.

Next Week we look at: Preventing Illegal Working

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