How do you manage Absenteeism in the workplace?
Managing absenteeism in the workplace can be a difficult scenario for
employers and the purpose of this article is to highlight the issues
that employers need to consider in managing this issue. It is no
harm for employers on a regular basis to take a step back and review
their levels of absenteeism in the workplace.
Very often, companies fail to do so and can be quite shocked to discover
that they have quite a high level of absenteeism. This can have
developed due to a culture of tolerance that has developed in the
workplace which in turn allows absenteeism in the workplace to become
Short term absenteeism
Short term absences can, in fact, be more difficult to manage than an
employee out on long term sick leave. For example, employers should give
consideration to how they treat employees who are consistently late for
Furthermore, employers need to give consideration to how many days’
uncertified leave they will allow in any 12 month period. At the very
least, employers should oblige employees to self-certify when they
return from a short term absence to confirm the reason for their
Many employers experience the regular Monday/Friday absences. This issue
should be addressed. For example, employers should consider whether or
not their Sick Leave Policy should be amended to provide for medical
certification if an employee is out on sick leave on a Friday or Monday.
Alternatively, the employer could consider withdrawing payment for
absences on these days. Some employers have introduced a policy whereby
employees are disqualified from overtime for that week if they are
absent on a Friday or a Monday. Alternatively, employers could look at
their bonus schemes and deal with regular Monday/Friday absences in that
Another initiative that can prove very successful in combating regular
short term absences is the return to work interview. This lets employees
know in no uncertain terms that their absence has been noted, albeit a
short absence from the workplace, and also provides the employer with an
opportunity to find out information about the employee’s absence which
might be relevant in the overall employment relationship context.
If return to work interviews are being introduced, make sure that the
message is sent to employees that these are for information purposes
only and are not a means of punishing or harassing the employee on
returning to work.
If Managers are being charged with conducting the return to work
interviews, employers should ensure that the Manager is obliged inform
HR of the outcome of the interview and HR must ensure that there is a
consistency in the application of a policy across the organisation.
an employee has established a continued pattern of short term absences
over a protracted period then consideration may have to be given to
termination of the employee’s contract of employment. In this regard, an
employer will have to prove the following -
- That there has been a pattern over a protracted period.
- That it is reasonable to conclude the situation will not improve.
- That the continuation of the level of absenteeism was unacceptable
and was causing prejudice to the employer.
- That the employer took reasonable steps to ascertain the true
medical situation with regard to the employee.
- The employer further informed him/herself of all relevant
information relating to the employee.
- That the absenteeism level was excessive compared to other employees
in the organisation.
- That the employee received warnings about the absenteeism and that
these warnings were successive and progressive.
- That the employer afforded the employee a reasonable time to improve
and that the employee was given an opportunity to be represented and
heard prior to any decision being taken to terminate their employment.
Long Term Absenteeism
Long term absences raise different issues for an employer. Employers
have the right to refer employees for medical examination if they are on
long term sick leave. The Sick Leave Policy should place an obligation
on the employee to remain in regular contact with the employer.
In this regard, the mere submission of medical certificates on an
ongoing basis should not be accepted as sufficient contact in this
regard and employees should be obliged to telephone the employer on a
If employers are giving consideration to the issue of home visits to an
employee who is on long term sick leave, they must ensure that they are
only doing so with the employee’s consent and that there is no question
that the employee can make an argument that they are being harassed. In
other words, do not arrive unexpectedly at an employee’s home place
while they are out on long term sick leave.
If an employee who has been out on long term sick leave is returning to
work, then consideration needs to be given to the basis upon which they
can return. Obviously, an employer, from a health and safety
perspective, should satisfy themselves that the employee is fit to
return to work. Employers can and should seek their own medical opinion
in this regard.
Once the employee is certified fit to return, the employer needs to give
consideration to whether the employee is returning to work full time or
on an initial part time basis in order to reintegrate into the
workplace. It may be that the employee can only return on the basis of
doing light duties.
Employers are not obliged to create positions for employees on long term
sick leave who wish to return to work on a particular basis but
employers must give consideration to making reasonable accommodation for
employees who are returning from long term sick leave.
Employers should always establish the factual position relating to the
capability of an employee who has been out on long term sick leave and,
to what, if any, specialist facilities are available at what cost.
Enquiries in this regard are adequate only if the employee is involved
at each level and can submit medical evidence and make submissions to
the employer, particularly in advance of any decision being made to
terminate the employee’s contract of employment.
Employees on sick leave whose contract of employment is terminated have a
number of legal remedies available to them. For example, they can issue
a claim under the Employment Equality legislation for disability
In this regard, it is important for employers to note that it has been
held recently by the Equality Tribunal that alcoholism is a disability
within the meaning of the Employment Equality legislation.
Alternatively, an employee with 12 month’s continuous service can issue a
claim for unfair dismissal and in this regard the procedure adopted by
the employer prior to the termination of the contract of employment is
Alternatively, the employee can issue a civil claim for wrongful
dismissal and it is important to remember in this regard that the 12
month employment pre-condition is not applicable to civil claims.
It is clear from the above that managing absenteeism in the workplace is
a tricky area for employers. It is an area that needs to be kept under
constant review by the employers to ensure that they are fully compliant
and furthermore to ensure that a culture is not allowed to develop in
the workplace whereby certain levels of absenteeism become acceptable.
Partner, Ronan Daly Jermyn Solicitors, 12 South Mall, Cork