Category Archives: absent without leave

Tis the Season For Sickness Absence

sickness absence


“Cover up your coughs and sneezes. If you don’t, you’ll spread diseases.”

Winter is upon us and so, it seems, tis the season for sickness according to some of my clients.  Most employers notice a huge increase in sickness absence in the winter months particularly December.  A few years ago a survey by BUPA found 71% of employers had a problem caused by coughs, colds and flu.

The impact on remaining staff due to increasing workloads and costs to a business due to absent staff can cause a real headache for business owners.

It is really important to have a sickness absence procedure in place which is followed by all employees.  The sickness procedure should be clearly stated in the employment contract and employee handbook.  Employees who fail to call in sick should be considered AWOL which is deemed to be either misconduct or gross misconduct depending on the company’s view and statement in the employee handbook.  There should be no excuses for calling in.  Ideally it should be the sick employee, or if they are considered to be on their “deathbed”, a friend, partner or spouse should oblige.  Compliance and adherence to the sickness absence procedure is paramount to ensure good staff morale.  if employees are allowed to “get away with it”, such an attitude will cause big problems in a company.

Return to work interviews are a useful management tool so that the spotlight is placed on the returning employee who is questioned about their sickness absence.  Managers should check if their version of events adds up.  For example, photos on Facebook where they have been partying the night before a sick day needs to be questioned or if they have been seen out, seemingly, not worse for wear.

Many companies now operate SSP instead of generous occupational sick pay schemes.  SSP can be a useful tool to prevent intermittent odd sick days with employees who are on lower wages.

An alternative can be health promotions to employees of how they can improve their health and fitness over the winter months can help eg encouragement of flu jab uptakes.

Mental Health In The Workplace

mental health

Source: Free Digital Images/artur84

The death of Robin Williams this week has highlighted the issues of mental health and its devasting effects.  Mental health in the workplace is often a difficult subject to deal with as it can be misunderstood.  Mental health issues can include depression, anxiety and bi polar disease to name but a few conditions.  Employees with mental health issues may appear troublesome and managing them can be difficult to their behaviour which can include being disruptive, turning up for work late or not showing up at all.

Mental health is surrounded by prejudice, ignorance and fear.  People with mental health have many problems may include:

  • People become isolated
  • They are excluded from everyday activities
  • It is harder to get or keep a job
  • People can be reluctant to seek help, which makes recovery slower and more difficult
  • Their physical health is affected

One in four of us will experience a mental health issue at some point in our lives and one in ten young people.  We shall probably work with someone experiencing mental health and those who have mental health issues fear the reaction about discussing their problems.

There are many myths about mental health issues:

  • Mental health problems are very rare.
  • People with mental illness aren’t able to work.
  • Young people just go through ups and downs as part of puberty, it’s nothing.
  • People with mental health illnesses are usually violent and unpredictable
  • It’s easy for young people to talk to friends about their feelings.

People with mental health problems are more dangerous to themselves than they are to others:  90% of people who die through suicide in the UK are experiencing mental distress.  Substance abuse appears to play a role: The prevalence of violence is higher among people who have symptoms of substance abuse (discharged psychiatric patients and non-patients).

It makes good business sense to support employees with mental health issues.  The Equality Act 2010 protects employees with mental health issues and they are protected against disability discrimination.

Where an employee’s mental health is impacting on their job role an employer should seek occupational health advice to establish if they are fit for work and if there are any reasonable adjustments that could be made to enable them to remain the workplace.  It is essential to seek such advice particularly if dismissal is being considered.

An employer needs to demonstrate they have taken into account the following which was set out in case law Lynock v Cereal Packaging Ltd [1988] IRLR 511,:

  • the nature of the illness
  • the likelihood of it recurring or of some other illness arising
  • the length of the various absences and the periods between them
  • the need for the employer to have the work done
  • the impact of the absences on other employees
  • the importance of a personal assessment of the situation
  • the importance of consultation with the employee
  • the importance of appropriate warnings of dismissal if there is no noticeable improvement.


What To Do With An Employee Who Has Gone AWOL

The recent media interest in Conservative MP Nadine Dorries who has apparently gone to the Australian jungle to feature in “I’m a celebrity get me out of here” without apparently obtaining parliamentary permission has brought to light the matter of what to do with an employee who has gone AWOL.

Failing to turn up to work can be deemed to be gross misconduct and following the disciplinary procedure is essential whether the employee eventually comes back to work or repeatedly fails to turn up at all.

If the employee has turned up for work an initial conversation or return to work interview will provide investigatory evidence from which should follow a disciplinary meeting to formally give the employee a chance to respond to the allegation of being absent without leave.  Without a plausible excuse a suitable warning should be delivered with the right to appeal. 

If the employee has not turned up work attempts should be made to get in touch with them to find out the reason for their absence.  Any letters should be delivered by recorded delivery. 

Now Ms Dorries has been evicted from the camp we must wait and see what treatment the government doles out to her.