Q I have an employee who takes a lot of sick days and I don't know how best to address it. What's the best course of action?
A We deal with a lot of queries on this issue and the most common issue is that employers are unsure how to take the first step in addressing short-term absence.
Employers are unsure on deciding how many days is "too many" days. Employers can be nervous of addressing repeated absences when, for example, the employee has provided valid medical certificates for some or all of them.
The simplest way to answer this is that absenteeism that is not dealt with can result in serious issues for your business.
It can effect productivity directly due to decreased output but can also have a knock-on effect on the productivity of other employees.
Productive workers can easily become demotivated if they perceive that some employees are taking a lot of sick days and "getting away with it" and this must be balanced with the fact that absence is part of life due to illness, etc and supporting employees during these challenging times is essential for good staff morale.
The most proactive measure is to develop and communicate a comprehensive absence policy. This policy should clearly outline the organisation's expectations when it comes to absence, especially what is expected from an employee who is absent from work - who they need to contact and when they need to make this contact.
The absence policy should also outline what steps will be taken to deal with unacceptable absence levels or to deal with an employee who does not fulfil their obligations in terms of notification of an absence through the correct channel.
The absence policy should refer to steps that can be taken under the company disciplinary procedure to deal with absence issues.
The policy should also allow for return-to-work meetings following all absences. These meetings ensure that all employees must explain the reason for their absence. These meetings are a good opportunity for the employer to monitor and record all absences and they also serve to remind the employee of this monitoring.
These must be carried out on a consistent basis if they are to have the desired effect. Employers should be wary of unfair, even if unintentional, selection to attend these meetings to ensure that there is no unfair treatment of any employees.
These return-to-work meetings can be useful in determining if there are any underlying reasons as to an employee's absence, but they can also serve as a deterrent to those who may be taking excessive or not wholly necessary time off work. The Employment Equality Acts 1998-2015 prohibits discrimination by employers on a number of grounds, including disability.
The scope of disability is very broad and can include conditions. It is always sensible to seek the advice of a HR professional before addressing an employee's absence if there is any underlying condition. An employer is obliged to provide "reasonable accommodation" for a disability.
Each employee situation should be dealt with on a case-by -ase basis.
In terms of claiming an employee is incapable of performing their duties due to their absenteeism, there are a number of factors that will be considered to ascertain if this was a fair determination. An employer must be able to demonstrate that there was a pattern of absence over a period of time, so a good paper trail is the foundation. An employer must be able to show that there will be no substantial improvement in the future. This conclusion needs to be supported with medical evidence and recommendations.
The employer needs to demonstrate why this level of absenteeism is unacceptable and show it is having a negative effect on the business.
It is critical that the employee is aware of the consequences of their absence and that they have been given sufficient opportunity to improve.
The employee's right to fair procedures must be adhered to at all times. We also need to be conscious of the importance of supporting the employee in any way we can and consulting and engaging with the employee is key to any determination regarding absence management.
Caroline McEnery, managing director of The HR Suite, is a member on the Low Pay Commission and is an Adjudicator in the Work Place Relations Commission. She is also author of The Art of Asking the Right Questions.
Sunday Indo Business