Unauthorised staff absence can be a minefield. Jane Smith, solicitor at ASB Law, gives her advice on how to deal with employees who go AWOL

Empty office desk - dealing with absence is a vital skill for any manager

1. Always have a clear policy

Whether it’s for sick pay, holiday entitlement, compassionate leave or reporting sickness, have a policy set out in your employment contracts/staff handbook. All policies must comply with statutes.

2. Monitor sickness absence

Record, monitor and analyse attendance records and set benchmarks for levels of absence.

3. Be aware of disabilities

A poor sickness record can be the first sign of a potential disability. The employee may not even recognise they may have a disability under the Disability Discrimination Act 1995. Look for connected reasons for absence, which may indicate a disability.

4. Be consistent

If there are any discretionary elements to your absence policies (often the case with sick pay), exercise your discretion reasonably and consistently to limit potential liability.

5. Hold return to work meetings

Arrange a meeting between the employee and their manager on their return to discuss their absence. This often acts as a deterrent to malingerers and also helps to identify potential disabilities early on.

6. Exercise your right to medical reports

Your contracts/handbook should allow you the right to insist employees undergo a medical examination and/or allow you access to their medical reports.

7. Use Occupational Health

Who will meet with employees and make recommendations as to how the workplace can be changed to minimise factors that could lead to sickness absence and report on the individual’s medical status.

8. Consider making adjustments

Under the Disability Discrimination Act, employers have a duty to consider making reasonable adjustments to a disabled employee’s working practice and environment to help them carry out their job.

Even if an employee is not disabled you should consider making reasonable adjustments if they have long-term health issues.

9. Clamp down on unauthorised absence

Make it clear in your policies that unauthorised absence, such as not calling in when off sick may lead to disciplinary action.

10. Take advice

Minimise the risk of claims by being aware of your obligations.