How to deal with employee absenteeism

Employee absenteeism has a significant impact on any business; from small, local concerns to huge multinational companies, staff absence effects productivity, the capacity to meet deadlines, quality of products or services provided and the amount of trading or service provision that can be accommodated.

The impact goes even further than these immediate consequences, extending to other colleagues and management, customers, suppliers and the wider business network; employee absenteeism harms the overall revenue, reputation, health and, potentially, survival chances of a company. 

Employee absenteeism is a global issue affecting many businesses, industries and, in fact, national economies; according to research undertaken by the CIPD, employee absenteeism is currently costing the UK in the region of £29 billion.

All employees will have times when they need to take a few days off for sickness or to deal with personal or private difficulties.

Many employees will, at some point in their career, need to take a period of extended leave due to serous or longer-term illness or injury or another matter in their lives that temporarily reduces their capacity to work. This is reasonable and the right of the employee; life happens and people cannot control or predict problematic physical or mental health or the occurrence of a significant event in their world.

Employees needing to take time away from work for legitimate reasons should be supported by their employer, treated with compassion, respect and understanding and have their needs at that time recognised and accepted.

However, there are other situations of persistent or unreasonable absenteeism where an individual has taken an extended period of leave without a genuine concern to justify this, is perhaps being misleading or dishonest about their reason for absence or has taken numerous periods of leave over their duration of employment which is now at the point of making their contribution to work minimal or non-existent and is disruptive to the company.

It is extremely challenging for businesses when they are faced with these situations as they need to continue to meet the expense of paying for the employee but are receiving nothing back for this outlay, they must balance the workload and experience of other staff and management who are picking up the legacy of the absenteeism and they must still meet the expectations and contractual obligations of customers.

So, what can a business do to tackle the issue of persistent or unreasonable employee absenteeism?

Any staff absence of more than one working week requires the employee to provide evidence of the reason for their extended leave such as a GP letter or document; the employer has a right to request this and failure to provide this can mean that the business can respond in a more heavy handed manner from the offset.

If the employee has provided supporting evidence, the business needs to accept this at first and allow the individual to have their time off in a peaceful and uninterrupted manner without any harassment or intrusion from their employment. 

Once the supported period of leave is coming to an end, or if the periods or absence have become persistent or if you are questioning how genuine the reasons for leave are, an important first step is to speak with the employee in question to gain fuller understanding of the reasons for absence, a timescale of when they intend to return to work and a plan from them of how they intend to prevent further absence; it is crucial that the business are supportive during initial consultations and that they work with the employee to identify any role the company can play in supporting the return to work and any measures that need to be taken to allow this to be a successful and good experience for the staff member; this may include allowing some flexibility in working hours, a gradual return, the provision of counselling or emotional support for the employee or adaptations to physical environments or equipment.

These measures can be reviewed ongoing to determine how effective they have been and whether they need to reduce or increase.

Once the company has done their bit to support the return to work and it either hasn’t happened or the employee has again taken absence, the business may start questioning the justifications behind this and want to start to take more direct action to prevent further financial and productivity losses.

It is possible to consider dismissal if reasonable adjustments have been made but it’s important that a company follow ACAS guidance around this (www.acas,org,uk) to prevent it resulting in a claim for unfair dismissal and tribunal.

Disability is not reasonable grounds for dismissal. However, long term sickness can be if the individual’s inability to work is impacting severely on the business. There can also be the option of dismissal on grounds of gross misconduct by the employee if their reason for absence is determined to be dishonest or falsely evidenced.

Both of these avenues would still need careful management and investigation before being undertaken to ensure compliance and protect the business from future legal challenge. 

If an employee’s absence is impacting significantly on the business, or if the business suspects that the grounds for absence are false it is important to gain evidence to support this before proceeding with dismissal.

Impact of genuine long-term absence and the employee’s inability to work can be demonstrated through providing records of absence dates and productivity, proof of company expenditure caused by the absence (eg. loss of revenue or having to pay additional hours to other staff or recruit to cover the missing employee’s job) and statements from other staff members or management, and even customers, about the impact the absence has had on their lives, workload and experience.

If the business is concerned that the employee is fraudulently taking absence such as claiming for an illness or injury that is more severe than is the genuine case or that they are now recovered, or are being dishonest about events in their life that have prevented them from being able to work, it can be extremely difficult to obtain evidence to support this and dismiss the employee on grounds of gross misconduct without risking legal challenge or redress. A very effective solution to this issue is to obtain the services of a corporate investigation agency; these are the experts in gathering robust and irrefutable evidence to corroborate any suspicions and enable the company to resolve the matter without risk. 

Private investigators are able to situate themselves internally or externally to a company and undertake covert surveillance, provide specialist surveillance equipment, track and background check the absent employee; they have use of software that allows them to access information on individual that is not available in the public domain or to businesses not operating in this field.

A private investigator will be able to monitor the activities of an absent employee and determine if they are in better health than they claim or have greater capacity for work than they are alleging; for example it may be that the employee is working elsewhere to obtain a second income whilst still receiving sick pay from their primary employment, or it could be that the employee is far more physically capable than they declare and are undertaking activities within their lives that demonstrate this.

A private investigator will undertake surveillance to gain clear and physical proof of any fraudulent absence claims being made by the individual, providing a business with the evidence it requires and placing them in a position of power and choice. 

If your business has concerns about an employee absence that is harming the health of the business and the wellbeing of other staff and customer relations, hiring a private investigator can be the only guaranteed means of addressing this without risk. 

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