The Essentials of Effective Employee Absence Management

unwell employee

by Moira Grassick, COO at Peninsula Ireland

When your employees call in sick with flimsy excuses, it can be frustrating for managers and disruptive in general when the absentee’s duties need to be reallocated.

Longer or genuine sickness absences can also arise and these need to be managed efficiently too.

Dealing effectively with all types of absence is an underappreciated aspect of HR management. Here we take a look at how you can minimise any disruption caused by absenteeism.

Put an absence policy in place

First things first, you should have an employee absence management policy. This policy should outline how sickness-related absences will be dealt with and specify what amounts to:

  • Short-term absence.
  • Long-term absence.
  • Unauthorised absence.

Your absence policy also needs to be communicated to your employees. Doing so ensures your employees know how each type of absence will be handled and what procedure will be followed.

Furthermore, having an absence policy in place will ensure consistency. A consistent approach will help protect you should you need to defend any employee claims related to sickness absence.

How to reduce sickness absence in the workplace

Return to work interview

One of the simplest ways to reduce sickness absence is to conduct ‘return to work’ interviews. These conversations scheduled for the day the employee returns to work can help shed light on any issues an employee has, whether they’re personal or work-related.

These interviews have a two-fold significance as they let the employee know they will have to account for their absence and in situations where employees do disclose issues in the interview, you can take action to assist them.

If employees need assistance of some kind to deal with a personal issue, you could look at altering their work hours, allowing them to work from home for a limited period, or providing paid/unpaid time off for medical appointments.

Record keeping

Record keeping is another useful tool in managing absence. The benefit of tracking employee absences is that patterns will appear. For instance, does one of your employees always miss the Friday of a Bank Holiday? Or say they’re feeling unwell the Monday they’re due in after a week off?

Monitoring absences will make patterns easier to spot and provides you with evidence if you need to hold a meeting with an employee who has a questionable absence record.

As with all HR issues, you need to manage these situations sensitively.

Recurring absences may be something an employee needs help with, so keep an open mind when addressing employees with a poor absence record.


Whether it’s a short or long-term absence, it’s important to stay in touch with the employee. You can do so by phone, email, or in long-term cases, a pre-agreed home visit.

Keeping in touch will help you understand what the employee is dealing with and how long they think they’ll be absent for. Ongoing communication will also help you prepare for the employee’s return to work when the time comes.

What about dismissal due to sickness absence?

In certain cases, employees may no longer be capable of doing their job due to a long-term sickness. In these circumstances, you may need to consider beginning a process to terminate the employee’s contract.

As with any dismissal process, you’ll need to show that you followed fair procedures and acted reasonably before confirming any termination of employment. Failure to follow fair procedures could expose your business to an employee claim for unfair dismissal.

When dismissing an employee because of medically certified incapacity, certain criteria must be met, including:

  • You have gathered all material facts concerning the employee’s sickness.
  • You have given the employee enough notice that their capability to fulfil their role is being investigated and may lead to dismissal.
  • You have given the employee the option to influence your decision.
  • You have made reasonable accommodations to the employee’s work/workstation to allow the employee to return to work.

If the employee’s long-term sickness is the result of a work-related injury, you should seek specialist advice about how to manage the dismissal process.

About the author

Moira Grassick is an experienced director with a demonstrated history of working in various services industry including financial and legal services. Skilled in HR Consulting, HR Policies, Organizational Design and Development, Management, and Performance Management. Commercially focused with the ability to grow and develop new business. Moira currently holds a BA in HRM, Certified Mediator and diploma in Employment Law.