MANAGING ill health can be tricky for any employer.

Absences can arise for a variety of reasons, such as workplace stress or bullying, accidents at work, disabilities or from the common cold - and they can be long term or intermittent.

What you think might be a straightforward absence issue, like the common cold, might however be part of a bigger underlying issue that needs to be investigated further.

Employers should ensure that proper processes and procedures are followed when tackling unacceptable levels of attendance.

Having effective policies and procedures in place will help employers to deal with absences consistently and set out a clear company standard.

Having a policy in place is however of no benefit unless those that are responsible for enforcing the policies (e.g. line manager, manager, directors not only understand the company policy but also apply it appropriately).

Where there is no policy or a manager who simply doesn’t review the company policy and follow it accordingly, that will simply result in inconsistency in the company’s approach and will undoubtedly lead to different outcomes for different employees.

This in turn could weaken any defence when reasonableness is questioned.

Many employers use scaling systems (e.g. once an employee has been absent for three days in any six-month rolling period that will trigger an internal process).

On the whole, such systems can ensure consistency when dealing with absence matters and demonstrate clearly the expectations of the employer.

However, employers should be mindful that such a “provision, criterion or practice” could put disabled employees, for example, at a disadvantage and lead to discrimination claims being brought, most usually claims that an employer has failed to make reasonable adjustments (e.g. to extend the trigger period).

When dealing with intermittent or long-term absences as an employer, you will be looking to establish the reason for the absence, how long the absence is likely to continue for, is it likely to be a recurring issue, consider whether medical evidence is needed and what steps if any you can take to accommodate the earliest return to work.

Dismissing the employee will also be a consideration point.

When we look at employer’s obligations when dealing with such issues, you should note the following:

• There is a duty upon an employer to make reasonable adjustments to absence management policies.

• Employers are not expected to wait indefinitely for a long term sick employee to recover, however medical evidence will be heavily relied upon.

• There is no correct timescale that applies.

• Employers must be able to show clearly why the employee was given a warning or dismissed at that particular time, such as demonstrating the impact of the employee’s continued absence on the business and thus why they cannot reasonably be expected to leave the job open any longer (e.g. impact on staff, additional costs for cover).

• Medical evidence must not be ignored. Where evidence isn't clear or is contradictory – investigate it

For further advice and assistance in dealing with the management of employees, contact Melissa Bramwell on 01978 291 000 or

Melissa is also available to deal with in house training for management where required.