The importance of accurately recording employee absence

During the course of our work with clients, the issue of absence rates often comes up, whether it is in respect to looking at accident rates and trends, or developing an absence management policy to help reduce general absence.

During any such conversation, we are usually presented with some facts and figures to provide a better understanding of the companies concerns and to assist us to identify where any problems might lie.

Generally speaking the facts and figures do not present an accurate picture of the problem, in so far as the company often fails to break down the reasons for absence in such a way as to be able to properly categorise the issues and genuine causes of absence.

I was asked recently to look over and hear an absence related dismissal appeal, the lady in question had 17 separate occasions of absence in the previous 12 months, with each occasion of absence logged on a record card which simply stated ‘sick’ with no further information. 

Looking back at the notes taken during the disciplinary investigation I noted that several of the absences in January were due to the closure of her son’s school. Several further occasions during the period also appeared to relate to her son being ill and unable to attend school. I contacted the manager and asked for some background regarding the employee’s domestic arrangements, to be informed that she was a single mother with two children.

In summary, I heard the appeal hearing and discovered that 70% of the recorded incidents of absence were due to her children – being either their illness, school closures, or the breakdown of other care arrangements for them. Once the absences which related to her need to care for her children were taken into account, the employee’s actual sickness absence for which she had been dismissed was below the company average.  

This situation is not uncommon and is often simply due to poor administration and/or inadequate absence reporting tools. In our experience, ensuring managers use the right tools, alongside the implementation of return-to-work interviews can prevent these problems and dramatically reduce the risk of getting decisions wrong. These tools are an essential part of good employment practice in companies of all sizes – they shouldn’t be a burden to managers or employees, but instead they can assist companies to make the correct judgements.

All employees have a right to reasonable time off work to care for a dependent. Follow this link to learn more about the rights of time off for employees

To assist small firms who may not have automated systems, we have developed an easy to use absence record template, free for anybody to download. Use this tool alongside the attached return to work interview form and you should find your chances of getting absence-related decisions wrong are significantly reduced.

Absence Record Card 2014.xlsb

Return To Work Interview Template.doc

 (Please email us if you have any difficulties downloading or opening either of the resources)