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To miss a few days a year of working might not seem like too much of an issue for a single employee, but combined they make a massive impact on not only the bottom line of a business, but on the UK economy as a whole.

The average rate of employee absence, which may occur because of sickness/illness, health issues, injury, burnout, bereavement, bullying/harassment, strike action, family emergencies etc, currently stands at 7.8 days per employee per year. This has increased since before the pandemic. In October/November 2019, this figure stood at 5.8 days per employee per year.

 Business disruption

Any unplanned absence has a negative impact on your business in terms of disruption (reduced customer satisfaction), increased costs of potentially having to find, pay and train temporary cover, a reduction in productivity and a lack of motivation and morale from other staff.

Whatever the reasons for workplace absence, it’s important that the process is managed effectively. That means having easily understood, widely communicated and fair policies and procedures in place, so that you as an employer, and your employees, clearly understand their obligations, enabling levels to be kept to a minimum.

Striking the right balance

When it comes to having an absence policy, you must strike a careful balance between your employees knowing they can take sick leave and have days off for unforeseen circumstances and preventing them from taking too much leave on a regular basis. This will necessitate your policy containing comprehensive instructions on:

  • How employees should report their absence in the first instance – how, to whom and by when will need to be covered off
  • Maintaining regular communications during an employee’s longer absence period – up-to-date medical information, welfare meetings, occupational health assessments etc.
  • Use of return-to-work interviews to discuss reasons behind the absence and ways in which the employer can support the employee to minimise further absence
  • Implementing appropriate adjustments to accommodate the employee’s needs and aid their return to work
  • Allowing more flexible working


Well maintained records

Details of how your absence data is recorded and measured is essential. Not only does recording sickness absence help with the management of employees who are absent due to sickness, and ensures an accurate payment of both contractual and statutory sick pay, but it can also help you to identify trends, habits or patterns which may require further support and/or timely intervention. Plus as a manager, understanding employees’ absence, sickness, and lateness patterns can help you to make better, more-informed decisions to support them, and to remain productive.


But perhaps of most importance is that employers must keep accurate absence records for six years to comply with various employment and health and safety laws, to meet disability obligations; and to avoid unfair dismissal on the grounds of absence. And let’s not forget that there are also a few internal implications that need to be considered. One of which is that employees accrue their holiday entitlement as normal when they’re absent from work because of sickness or injury.

How can I help?

For advice when it comes to compiling a comprehensive absence policy or help and support with your absence data record management, please email caroline.robertson@actifhr.co.uk