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  • Phillipa Mckernan


The BBC recently reported that on average 5.3% of the UK working population are currently not at work due to sickness absence. Can your business continue to operate effectively without 5.3% of its resource whilst continuing to bear the financial burden of those resources?

Whilst ill health in the workforce is always a realistic possibility, employers can mitigate the severity of impact on their business by having a proactive and dynamic infrastructure to provide support and tackle unplanned absence.

Employers naturally want to support employees, but employers must recognise that in specific cases continued employment might not be in the best interests of the employee or the business.

The balancing act is a delicate one as absence invariably increases the workload on colleagues at best and at worst impacts a business’ ability to deliver to plan which can result in reputational harm and loss of revenue.


1. Businesses need to have a properly developed and communicated policy on how they deal with unplanned absence.

2. For each role within the organisation, there needs to be an assessment of the outputs that are required from the individuals in that role and the support measures that have to be in place to optimise employee performance.

Key performance indicators should be in place to permit employees to measure their performance, thereby enabling employees to determine for themselves how they are performing in their role.

3. Employees should

be encouraged without fear of sanction to discuss with their employers any challenges that they are facing, which would prevent optimised delivery.

4. Performance appraisals should be in place that are not generic in nature but are tailored to the specific environment in which that employee works.

5. The employer’s systems must be capable of monitoring unplanned absence for individual employees with a ‘cause for concern’ limit set in place which, when reached by an individual employee, would trigger an investigation of the support measures that may be required in relation to that employee.

6. Return to work interviews should always be conducted by trained line managers with the support of a Human Resources team.

All of these measures need to be clearly communicated to your workforce at large and their input invited in a way that achieves an acceptable policy, embraced by the workforce as well as the business.

Having the right policies and procedures in place is essential to the operation of an effective workforce. The number of employees on sickness absence can be greatly reduced if you implement the right support and management practices!


The management of unplanned absence is fertile ground for employee claims of bullying and harassment as well as an increased risk around those areas where employees have statutory protection, for example, disability, maternity, sex and race.

Employers should regularly monitor unplanned absences that are connected to sickness by cataloguing the nature of the sickness to gain a clear understanding of whether some categories are higher in percentage and may be symptomatic of adjustments that need to be made in the working environment.

The use of confidential employee assistance programmes, which are generally available through insurance policies, permit employees to seek assistance via telephone helplines. This may reduce the natural reticence of employees to discuss problems with line management. Whilst the administrators of these programmes are restricted from discussing individual cases, the programmes are very useful in identifying trends in terms of sickness absence.

Generally, sickness absence appears to fall into either mental health or muscular skeletal clusters. Other forms of absence may simply be a symptom of a bigger underlying cause, such as the need to provide care to extended family members or other issues with a significant impact such as bereavement, divorce, alcohol related issues or other forms of substance abuse.

In any event, a successful holistic attendance policy must be able to identify the root cause of individual absence!

In conclusion, as a starting point, it is highly recommended that employers engage in an honest self-assessment of the effectiveness of the infrastructure that is currently in place to deal with unplanned absence. This can be supported effectively through employee wellbeing surveys.

If you would like confidential advice and support in achieving an optimised absence management infrastructure within your business, FG Solicitors are experts at proving that support. Give us a call or email us for a no obligation discussion in the first instance.


For further details about our employment, commercial and corporate legal services and assistance that we provide, please click here. 👇

This update is for general guidance only and advice should be taken in relation to a particular set of circumstances.

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