• Helen Manson

Faced with a 'risky' absence issue?

Many conversations we have with clients relate to their rights around managing what they perceive to be 'risky' employee absence cases.

Before we even engage in a fact-finding conversation, we ensure they have robust policies and procedures in place, without which, their options are limited.

We then look at how these policies and procedures are implemented in practice. There is no point in having a handbook hidden away in a cupboard somewhere - policies only have real strength if there is evidence they are regularly practiced in a fair and consistent manner.

Absence relating to Sickness:

To be clear, no employer is expected to tolerate intermittent sickness absence indefinitely, including potential disability related absence. Where sickness absences may relate to disability, employers should be aware of their obligations under the Equality Act 2010.

This doesn't mean 'don't touch' - it just means employers need to justify the actions they've taken using formal, documented processes. Employers must also demonstrate how they have considered and / or implemented any reasonable adjustments to assist the employee in reducing their sickness absence levels.

Properly recorded return-to-work interviews should be conducted following an absence to determine any underlying causes and any support management can offer to avoid further occurrences.

However, as soon as an employee exceeds a clearly defined level of sickness absence, a formal sickness absence management process should be followed, which gives employees a chance of improvement while also providing a fair process for dismissing them if necessary.

Absence related to disciplinary proceedings:

Cases where employees are signed off on sick leave during disciplinary proceedings is a common occurrence. Again, this can be effectively managed using robust policies stating the employer's approach to such absence.

An employee may be unfit to carry out their duties but fit enough to participate in a disciplinary process.

Following advice from occupational health experts, employers may wish to consider implementing reasonable adjustments to ensure the employee is able to return to work within some capacity or at least continue with the disciplinary proceedings.

Personal crisis and dependants leave:

Legally, employees do not have the right to paid time off to respond to domestic matters relating to dependants. But do they have the right to take time off at all?

Employees have the legal right to take a ‘reasonable amount’ of unpaid time off where necessary to deal with crises relating to dependants, such as illness, dealing with the consequences of a death and unexpected events at school.

However, it will be almost impossible for an employer to implement dependants leave in a fair and consistent manner without having a clearly written, accessible and practiced policy.

If you would like a review of your existing policies and procedures to ensure your business isn't at risk, please contact us at

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