Picture the scene:

Louis is a young pup with a pregnant partner. He has previously had very little time off but more recently his absence has been increasing. He has taken time off for Antenatal appointments and also had some time off for sickness so, overall, it looks like quite a lot altogether.

You realise you need to monitor Louis’ absences and address any potential issues but you’re not sure how to manage the situation when there are different types of absence.

Let’s look at the facts: Louis has had the following time-off:

– 1 July (migraine)

– 18 July (am) antenatal appointment

– 29 July (migraine)

– 13, 14, 15 August (exhaustion)

– 18 August (pm) antenatal appointment

– 2, 3, 4 September (migraine)

Here are the key things to think about:

– Separate any Sickness absence from any other types of absence in the list;
– Keep an eye on ‘Other’ leave, as this is often down to the line manager’s discretion but it doesn’t count towards an absence trigger (unless your policy has targets for Sickness and Other types of leave);
– In this example, Louis has actually exceeded an absence trigger of 3 occasions of sickness absence within 6 months, as stated in your absence policy.

So, what can you do now to address the situation?

First of all, you could refer Louis to Occupational Health, clearly there is an issue with migraines that needs further support and investigation as this is a reoccurring cause of absence. Referring him to Occupational Health means you get an independent Doctor’s or Nurse’s report which will help to identify the cause and any further action that needs to be taken by the employer to support the employee at work. For example, it may be stress that is causing the migraines and therefore counselling may be helpful.

Dependent upon the school’s policy you could have an informal discussion with Louis about his absences to see if you can identify any issues that need to be addressed, or establish if Louis has already seen a Doctor. If you want to be more formal, you could hold an absence meeting to discuss the levels of absence, arrange any support that is needed and then consider issuing a further target as part of a monitoring round over a set period. You could explain that if this monitoring round target is not met, a formal meeting could be considered, the outcome of which could be a warning in relation to levels of absence.

It’s very difficult for an employer to maintain a fair approach to absence across all staff. There will always be different circumstances and individual issues, especially where long-term absence or disability is involved. You must try and follow a process of how you address it because otherwise you leave yourself open to criticism of differential treatment and therefore potential discrimination claims. However, you can be flexible within this and take into account the individual circumstances and you must document the reasons for any deviation from the policy.

So, how did it go with Louis?

Well, after the absence meeting, Louis was issued with a second absence target and he has had a further 4 days’ absence. However, the Doctor confirmed that the medication for the migraines will take 3 months to take effect so after this time the issue and therefore Louis’ attendance should improve. So, a second absence review meeting was set for after this date and a new monitoring round set. If absence continues you still have the option of issuing a formal warning at this point. Considering individual circumstances when you manage absence is important but you still need to show that a process has been followed and maintained.

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