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Managing absence

Managing attendance problems often means tackling possible causes of absence, such as working patterns, job design and employment relations. This can also include addressing discipline problems such as lateness and poor time keeping. If issues arise, they can often be dealt with informally by the line manager in the first instance.

Key points

  • High levels of unauthorised absence, including sick leave can cause lost or delayed production, low morale and reduce the standard of service within an organisation.
  • Measuring absence can show how much time is lost, where it occurs most and how often individual employees are absent.
  • Keeping individual attendance records will help monitor absence and lateness.
  • Having attendance and absence policies will help employees understand what standards are expected of them and will help managers deal with these issues in a fair and consistent way.

People are absent from work for 3 main reasons.

  • They are sick.
  • They feel unable to come to work because of family or caring responsibilities.
  • They are on authorised leave such as holiday, maternity leave or a training course.

On average people are absent from work for 6.9 days a year (CIPD Absence Survey 2015).

Unauthorised absence is normally the "odd day off" when employees give no reason for the absence. Whether paid or unpaid this type of absence can be costly to an organisation as it is unpredictable. Absence of this kind may eventually lead to disciplinary action.

How to minimise absence and lateness

In addition to carrying out effective return to work discussions, there are workplace issues that can be addressed to minimise absence. These include the quality of management, working relationships, job design, employment relations, communication of information and flexible working arrangements. In addition, if workers know that absence will be noticed and investigated, they are less likely to take time off work without proper cause.

Dealing with absence or lateness

Authorised absence and lateness can be dealt with by:

  • requiring absent employees to phone in by a given time on each day of absence
  • having a return to work interview to ensure there are no underlying issues
  • taking disciplinary action if unexplained absence continues.

Certified or uncertified sickness can be dealt with by:

  • monitoring individual absence levels
  • holding return to work interviews
  • discussing the problems with the employees
  • having a policy on sickness absence
  • seeking medical opinions if necessary.

Return to work interview

This is generally a standard procedure, and as such may be covered in an employer's absence policy or company handbook. In most organisations, discussions will be informal and brief and include questions like 'how do you feel about being back at work?' They are normally intended to welcome an employee back and check that they well enough to be working, find out why they were away and let them know any news.

If an employee has been absent from work often, employers may also wish to find out if there are any underlying problems causing this, for instance if the sickness is work-related or if they are having any problems at work or home.

Fit for Work service

Fit for Work is a free service where expert and impartial advice is delivered by a team of occupational health professionals. The service currently provides general work-related health advice only to employees, employers and GPs. See for more information.

A wider occupational health assessment service has been trialled and is rolling out across England, Wales and Scotland throughout 2015. With their consent, employees are referred to an occupational health professional who will identify obstacles preventing the employee from returning to work, and develop a Return to Work Plan tailored to the employee's needs.

Statutory / contractual sick pay

Employees need to qualify for statutory sick pay (SSP), and must have been off work sick for 4 or more days in a row (including non-working days).

Employees can't get less than the statutory amount, but some employers pay more through a company sick pay scheme (or 'occupational scheme'), check your employment contract terms and conditions.

Further information regarding SSP can be obtained from the HM Revenue and Customs website.

Training from Acas on Fit for Work and absence management

Acas are offering a number of training courses on the new Fit for Work service and on Managing Long Term Absences. View and book training courses from our Absence management page.

Acas Productivity tool

Take the Acas self-diagnosis Productivity Tool test to understand your organisation's strengths and weaknesses, and to help you identify simple practical steps you can take to get the best out of your staff. The tool will produce a report with links to relevant Acas help and tools.

Acas Helpline

Call our Helpline on 0300 123 1100 for free support and advice or to check your workplace policies and practices. The Acas Helpline provides free and impartial advice for employers, employees and representatives on a range of employment relations, employment rights, HR and management issues.

Some feedback about our Helpline from users:

"Acas is invaluable. We have had lots of HR issues and nobody else to ask."

"Everything that I have asked Acas on the Helpline, they have informed us correctly and in full."

Helpline number: 0300 123 1100
Monday-Friday: 8am-8pm and Saturday 9am-1pm

View further information about our Helpline service, including our new Helpline Online on the Acas Helpline page.

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