SHORT-TERM ABSENTEEISM – How to deal with absences…


Local businesses need to smarten the way they think of short-term absences.

As from mid-March, Gibraltar Government has introduced a service whereby employees can call the health centre for a two-day sick note without seeing a health professional. This service can be used only once in a three-month period. This is to help elevate the pressure on health professionals to allow them to deliver a quality service. As ACAS has questioned – why bother about absence?


  • Absence from work is now costing employers over £600 per employee per year on average. Absence costs business £11.6 billion a year.
  • Absent employees put pressure on their colleagues who have to cover their workload. This can lower morale and reduce the efficiency of your business.

What causes high absence levels and how can they be reduced?

High absence levels are often caused by deeper rooted problems within an organisation. You should measure and control absence but you can also take positive steps to improve morale and motivation by:

  • creating a good working environment,
  • providing support and information to employees on health issues,
  • attempting to reduce stress levels amongst employees,
  • introducing flexible working practices.

Here are our top tips:

Have a clear absence policy in place: If a clear policy is in place then an employer has standard guidelines which can be followed when dealing with sickness absences to display fair and consistent behaviours. Ensure the policy includes:

  • clear guidance about how absence will be managed,
  • instructions of how they notify you of absence properly,
  • outlines how you keep records,
  • what level has been set to which you consider the absence level unacceptable – so that you treat everyone the same when they reach that limit,
  • consequences of reaching the unacceptable level.

Keep talking: When businesses identify that an employee is taking several prolonged absences from work, the first step is to establish the reason why and establish if their illness will affect their return to work. Communicate with your employee by maintaining regular contact with them while they are absent from work. An employer should find the right balance: too much contact can disturb the employee’s recovery, while too little can result in you feeling out of control of the issue.

Asking how the employee is recovering and when they think they will be able to return to work is appropriate, if it is not persistently repeated when the employee cannot give an answer.

Keep detailed records of absences: If a business is to manage absenteeism effectively, highlighting problems is a key to this success. It is especially important for a business to identify patterns of absenteeism. This may highlight departments with any issues. A solution maybe for the business to consider a review of the management structure and/or working practices.

A good formula to use is The Bradford Factor, it takes into account the number of absent days but focuses on the number of occurrences too. It’s useful as an objective measurement of whether a staff member has taken unacceptable amounts of sick leave.

Flexible working: Consider allowing employees to take periods of unpaid leave to help them cope better with their illness and aid their rehabilitation back to work. Look at schemes at the beginning of the year for employees to buy extra leave which may help employees achieve a greater work life balance thereby reducing the risk of increased stress levels.

Return to work interviews: Conduct return to work interviews, taking notes for your records, to help staff realise that their absence has been noted and to understand if any reasonable adjustments are required to improve their attendance.

Reasonable adjustments: To protect businesses from discrimination claims, employers should consider the opportunity for appropriate adjustments such as introduction of reducing workloads, working part-time and assessing their work station when an employee returns to work.

Medical evidence: Never question whether an absence is genuine without solid evidence; very few employers are medical experts and it is best to avoid this minefield. Treat every absence as genuine and target the level of absence.

Formal attendance procedure: If someone reaches an unacceptable level of sickness absence, review the absences with them, highlight your concerns and think about starting formal attendance management procedures. In all cases, you should invite the employee to a formal meeting to discuss their poor attendance. During this meeting, it is likely to want to explore and discuss the following points:

  • the effect of the absence on their colleagues,
  • the effect of the absence on the business,
  • whether the level of absence is likely to continue,
  • whether there are any changes that could be made to reduce the level of absence,
  • whether there is an underlying condition which is causing the short-term absence,
  • whether it is appropriate to give a formal warning for the unacceptable level of absence.

It is recommended that you use a Sickness Absence Policy to manage attendance issues, and avoid using a standard Disciplinary Policy as it underpins the exact process relating to the performance issues in relation to unacceptable levels of absence.

words | Leah Carnegie, The HR Dept.