Absenteeism can be a big problem for any employer, including law firms. While it’s tempting to think first about the employment law issues and formal procedures, to manage absenteeism effectively you need to take a more rounded view. This checklist will help, writes Jo Kangurs, director of KeystoneHR Consultancy. (20 July 2020)
(Note: This checklist does not include advice on the return to work after the Covid-19 lockdown.)
- Set a policy requiring employees to call in and notify the firm of any absences. Ask employees to speak to their manager, if possible, rather than leaving a message.
- Meet with employees on their return to work: make sure they are fully recovered, bring them up to date and, if necessary, clarify the reason for the absence.
- Ask them to complete a self-certification form if the period of absence is less than seven days.
- If the period of absence is longer than seven days, ensure the employee has a ‘Fit Note’ from their doctor.
- Check whether you can implement any changes to working practices or the working environment to reduce further illness, for example, ergonomic seating or longer breaks.
- Consider whether long or pressurised working hours are creating excessive stress; look at the firm's overall culture and partners' attitudes.
- Include illegitimate absenteeism as a disciplinary offence.
- Don’t make assumptions about the reason for absenteeism. Investigate fully.
- Treat employees with genuine reasons sympathetically; respect the legal rights of employees suffering from long-term illness or disability.
- Monitor individual absenteeism.
- Monitor overall absence levels, for example, as a percentage of total working time or by using a scoring mechanism such as the Bradford Factor.
- Analyse any significant correlations: for example, high levels of absenteeism on Mondays or among a particular group of employees.
- If informal measures do not lead to an improvement in attendance, implement a documented formal procedure when absences are becoming excessive.
- Be seen to proactively manage absenteeism.
- Keep records of employees’ absences and of all discussions held about absence and attendance, whether formal or informal.
- Motivate employees so that they want to work; aim to provide fulfilling projects and development opportunities.
- Create a climate of open communication and trust so that employees approach managers with problems rather than just calling in sick.
- Check that you are providing healthy working conditions: ensure that you have good lighting, ventilation and safe working practices.
- Consider providing an employee health scheme or offering training in healthy lifestyles and stress management.
- Draw up family-friendly policies to allow employees to legitimately take personal time when they need it.
- Be open to options for flexible working where possible.
- Ensure that managers lead by example – not just complying with absence procedures, but also following and encouraging healthy working practices.
- Be consistent. Avoid giving preferential treatment to particular people, such as longstanding employees.
"Attitudes to the work-life balance have changed. A more flexible approach to working patterns can help reduce absenteeism and improve talent retention" Catherine Gasparini, consultant
"Absenteeism can often be an indication of deeper problems – always try to dig deeper" Alex Holt, The Cashroom