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The importance of effective absence management

Over the summer months, with children on school holidays, an endless run of sporting events, and summer temperatures soaring, employers will spend time and resources ensuring that a reduced work force does not impact business performance. Inevitably however, employers will also face unplanned absences, making effective absence management a business summer survival tool!

Taking a look at two common absence issues that may crop up this summer, we consider what steps employers can take to minimise their impact on their businesses:
1. Do not hold back from tackling repeated short term absence
It may be tempting to brush the odd absence here and there under the rug, or on the flip side confront employees with suspicion about their absence before their return to work, but initially you should treat all odd one off absences the same and follow your internal absence procedures.
You should:
• Consider whether the employee has reported their absence in line with the absence reporting procedure;
• Don’t be afraid to ask questions about the reasons for the absence and find out when the employee expects to return to work;
• Conduct a return to work interview to address any concerns you may have about the employee’s absence. These meetings can be used to put employees on notice that repeated absences or a failure to follow procedure may lead to disciplinary action;
• Be mindful that there may be underlying health issues causing the absences and as an employer you have a duty of care to your employees;
• Keep records of absence and related meetings to help you spot patterns; and
• Follow through with formal disciplinary action if necessary. Whilst this can seem heavy handed, it builds a foundation for dealing with ongoing absence issues properly and fairly in the future.
2. Understand employee rights in relation to emergency leave
Most employees with children will be arranging childcare for all or part of the summer holidays but when this falls through or their children fall sick, what can you do when your employee asks for last minute time off?
Employees are entitled to emergency leave from work for dependents, meaning that you need to accommodate these emergency absences within reason. If you have any suspicion that these absences are not genuine emergencies you can address these concerns on their return to work. Remember that unless you give a contractual right, there is no obligation to pay employees for emergency leave.
It’s key to remember that this right is limited to time off in an emergency. If an employee has prior knowledge that they have no childcare in place, you can require them to take the time off as annual leave as this does not trigger emergency leave. If they have used their leave entitlements then these days should be treated as an absence and dealt with in line with the absence procedure. Ultimately if these absences become repeated and/or unreasonable, the situation can be dealt with under a disciplinary procedure.
Regardless of the type of absence that you are dealing with, it is imperative that you have clear and legally compliant absence and disciplinary policies in place, as these will provide the framework for dealing with employee absence fairly, reasonably and effectively, saving you time and resources in the future. It is also important to ensure your staff are given training to assist you in achieving a fair application of these processes across your work force.