Managing absence

September 15, 2016

Key Points

  1. Monitor absence rates and patterns e.g. short-term intermittent, long-term
  2. Have a clear policy
  3. Consider setting a target for reduction in absence rates
  4. Use return to work interviews and certification
  5. Early intervention can be beneficial to both parties – review meeting +/- medical report
  6. Maintain regular contact during periods of absence
  7. Be flexible where possible with requests for time off
  8. Does the situation warrant disciplinary action or dismissal?
  9. Could this be a Disability? If so you may have to make a reasonable adjustment under the Equality Act 2010.


There is a common misconception that if someone has a disability, there is nothing you can legally do to manage their absence. This isn’t true – you only have to make a reasonable adjustment – but absence due to a disability does require very careful management, and you should always seek specific advice if disability might be a factor.You need to have a very good paper trail.

Company Sick Pay

Do you pay company sick pay in addition to statutory sick pay? Could this be encouraging some individuals to take more time off sick. Consider making company sick pay discretionary, but it is VITAL that you take legal advice before changing employee terms and conditions.

Monitoring Absence

1. The Lost Time Rate

This may be calculated for an individual employee, department or whole practice, allowing comparisons to be made and problem areas highlighted.

Total absence (in hours or days) x 100 = Lost time rate as a percentage
Total possible (hours or days)

You can also calculate average number of periods of absence per worker:

Number of spells of absence x 100 = Frequency rate as a percentage
Number of workers

2. The Bradford Factor

The Bradford Factor (B) is used to ‘weight’ multiple, short-term absences, which may be seen as more disruptive to the practice.

It is calculated by multiplying the total number of days of sickness (D) by the square of the number of separate occasions on which an employee has been absent due to sickness (S).

B = S x S x D

There are published tables of ‘trigger point’ for Bradford – while we wouldn’t advocate following them, they can really highlight to an employee that the situation is potentially serious.

Typical suggestions are:
0-49 No action required
50-124 Potential Action – Verbal Warning
125-399 Potential Action – 1st Written Warning
400-649 Potential Action – Final Written Warning
650+ Potential Action – Termination of Contract

Certification & Return to Work

Fit Notes

A Fit Note is required after 7days of sickness absence (Including non-working days).

If a Fit Note says ‘not fit for work’, this is straightforward (usually!)

If it says ‘may be fit for work’ you should discuss with the employee any changes which might facilitate a return to work. if you can’t agree on suitable adjustments, they should be treated as ‘not fit for work’.

The employee should keep the fit note – take a copy for your records.


We recommend that anyone who has been absent for less than 7 days because of sickness should complete a self-certification form on their return.

Return to Work Interview

Consistent use of return to work interviews (RTWI) has been shown to reduce absence. Try to conduct a RTWI after each absence, as soon as practicable after the employee comes back to work.

As well as being a deterrent to abuse of sickness absence, the interview is an opportunity to discuss any issues which are impacting on the employee’s ability to carry out their duties effectively.

Remember the purposes of the RTWI :

  • establish or confirm the reason for the absence
  • welcome the employee back and check that they are well enough to return to work
  • discuss the details of any agreed return to work plan (this should have been agreed in principle before the return to work)
  • update the employee about anything they may have missed while away
  • consider whether they may have a disability under the Equality Act 2010
  • establish whether their sickness is work-related; consider any health & safety issues arising

Approaching the interview with an open mind and a friendly manner may encourage employees to reveal details, such as if they are being bullied at work or have issues because they are, for example, a carer outside of work.

Before the interview:

  • review the employee’s records, particularly absence
  • consider the implications of any return to work plan
  • plan your questions (open questions are best where possible); try to establish how the employee feels
  • consider your response if the employee requests a change of working pattern or phased return
  • consider whether you feel a medical report is required – in general, we would recommend seeking medical advice sooner rather than later.

Based on your preparation and the interview, you may need to warn the employee about possible disciplinary action due to their absence record, or to discuss a target for improvement to prevent the need for disciplinary action – don’t feel rushed into this at the time of the interview – take time to consider if necessary and arrange another meeting.


Each case needs to be considered individually. Be very aware of the possibility of disability.

This information has been produced as general guidance only, and is not a substitute for specific legal advice on any given situation.

Eight Legal Ltd. Premiere Service provides Contracts, Employee Handbook, and comprehensive policies and template letters, along with unlimited email and telephone advice. The advice is practical and business-focused, to keep your practice running smoothly. Contact us on 01242 570161, email [email protected].