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Type “how to throw a sickie” into Google and you get 125,000 responses back in 0.20 seconds. There’s no shortage of “advice” and many long lists of “excuses” to choose from - bad back, migrane, flu, something contageous (always a good option), at the dentists or doctors, a engineer is coming to fix the heating. Unbelievably a death in the family is very popular (although not a recommended option if one is working in the family business)!

However, in reality absenteesm is no joke if you are an employer, having to cover staff shortages at very short notice and frequently also picking up the costs. Just to calibrate the scale of the problem, in the UK, average employee absence stands at 7.7 days per employee per year, at an average cost of 600 per employee per year*

For a business with just 3 employees that’s 23 days lost, typical cost 1,800. And for 10 employees, you could be losing 77 productive days at a cost of 6,000 per year. A cost you can clearly do without!

Of course some (or many or most ?) of these absenteeisms may be genuine, the problem is that on a case by case basis it can be very difficult to sort fact from fiction. However, over time patterns emerge and it becomes pretty evident where each employee sits on the spectrum - at the extremes some will drag themselves into work no-matter what (and you will be the one who ends up sending them back home) whilst others seem to do everything they can to to abuse the system. Most will lie somewhere in the middle, occasionally late or absent, but willing to work late or step forward when really needed, looking for a little “give and take” on both sides.

For those employees with excessive systematic absenteeism our advice is as follows :
  • confirm that a formal written contract of employment is in place, documenting the terms and conditions of employment. Note that in the event that there is no formal written contract a legally binding verbal contact still exists, and during a dispute this will be wide open to different “interpretations” and “misunderstandings.
  • It is very important not to react emotively or spontaneously, but to start to follow the appropriate processes early on, including for example; having a contract to reference, issuing the appropriate warnings, demonstrating reasonableness and collecting the appropriate data and documentary evidence. Adopting the right process will make resolution much easier, and help to avoid the need for time consuming, emotionally draining, potentially costly employment tribunals.

* CIPD 2010 Absence Management Survey
At HR2all we have navigated our clients through this process many times - please contact us if you would like more specific help or guidance.

One final related point that is worth mentioning. Ironically and surprising the impact of being at work but unwell (called “presenteeism”) is potentially as serious as absenteeism, and the cost is estimated to be 1.5 times higher.** When addressing the former also keep an eye out for the latter - a waiter sneezing over customers or someone passing flu to the whole office via the air-conditioning will not help the business!

** Sainsbury Centre for Mental Health, 2007


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