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HOWELLS LEGAL: Dealing with absences at work

By South Wales Evening Post  |  Posted: August 27, 2014

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ABSENTEEISM at work is well-known to have a highly detrimental impact on the ability of a business to maintain productivity and standards. It's estimated almost a million people in the UK are absent from work for more than four weeks every single year.

Not only is this disruptive to the employer and the other employees of the organisation; it's also very costly in terms of sick pay, overtime for replacement staff and lost taxation income for the government. A recent report estimated the cost to the British economy to be an eye watering £14 billion pounds a year!

But what can be done to reduce the negative impact of absenteeism? Obviously, there will always be unavoidable absences from work for genuine reasons however those that are abusing the system need to be dealt with swiftly. A common question I often get asked by clients is can they demand that employees not notify them of their sickness by text message, email or social media – the answer is of course they can, and I regularly include this in contracts of employment and staff handbooks.

In order to most effectively deal with absences, employers should have an attendance policy to formally set out what is expected from employees. A record should be kept of absences to monitor the average absenteeism of its employees, and certain triggers can be set when an individual reaches a set number of absences. Employers must be careful to avoid being discriminatory by including absences that can in some way relate to an employee's disability.

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Since April 6 this year, there's further incentive for employers to reduce their levels of absenteeism as employers are no longer able to reclaim Statutory Sick Pay which exceeds 13 per cent of its National Insurance contributions in a month. The money saved by the Government is being used to fund the new Health and Work Service, which is due to be rolled out fully by May 2015.

The scheme will be run by Maximus, one of the largest providers of Occupational Health services in the UK. Employees absent for more than four weeks will be referred by their GP to the Health & Work scheme, with a report being produced to try and effectively formulate a back to work plan for the employee. How effective the scheme will be remains to be seen, though employers should ensure they have a robust absence policy as well as policies incentivising good attendance.

Luke Welsh is Head of Employment and Solicitor at Howells Solicitors, and advises both employees and businesses. Luke can be contacted on 01792 410016 or luke.w@howellslegal.com.

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