What is an absence management policy? (Guide and tips)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 10 November 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Most employees take time off at some point in their working lives. They may request a leave of absence for any number of reasons, including sickness or longer-term issues. But while absence is unavoidable in many situations, preparing a plan for managing it helps avoid loss of productivity and other financial concerns. In this article, we discuss what an absence management policy is, why it's important to have one, how to create an absence policy and tips for enabling employee wellbeing.

Related: Absenteeism at work: definition, causes and solutions

Why absence management matters

Absence management is important because when someone calls in sick, there are consequences for the company and for the people who work there. Employees carry a financial cost. They are paid to work every day and if they are unable to work, it may be necessary for someone else to pick up that work. Depending on the type of industry or role that person works in, you may be looking at re-scheduling meetings or tasks.

There may be productivity consequences, for example, if that person was due to fulfilling an order that day. Or there may be safety consequences if that employee is a care worker and their absence means that there are now not enough staff available who are legally required to be on duty. Establishing what to do when a member of staff is absent is crucial to managing the human resources of a company or organisation and maintaining productivity and profitability.

Related: What are acceptable excuses to miss work? (with tips)

Reasons for absence from work

Employees are entitled to take time off if they're too sick to work. Legally, the employer can ask for a fit note if the employee requests more than seven consecutive days off ill, which includes weekends and bank holidays. There are many other reasons why an employee may be absent, these include:

  • Medical appointment: Employees may require time off to attend a GP or hospital appointment.

  • Maternity, paternity or adoption leave: Employees are entitled to take up to 50 weeks of leave and can share this allowance with their partner.

  • Time off for study: Perhaps the employee is taking professional qualifications and requires time off to prepare.

  • Bereavement: Employees can take personal leave for bereavement and this can include taking time off to attend a funeral or to make the preparations for a funeral.

  • Domestic emergencies: If an employee has an emergency, for example, a fire, a flood, or if a burglar has broken in, they may require time off to manage the situation.

  • Military training: Employees who are members of a reserve force can ask for time off for training or to take part in a military operation.

  • Trade union activities: Trade union officials can ask for time off to take care of official duties and union members may request special leave for union action.

  • Court service: Employees may need time off if the jury service has called them up, or if they are appearing in court as a witness.

Related: How to conduct a return-to-work interview (with example)

What is an absence management policy?

An absence management policy lays down the guidelines under which an organisation manages employee absence. It looks at the reasons why staff may take time off and the regulations surrounding employees' working hours. Rather than just focussing on discouraging unnecessary absenteeism, this type of policy can be used to address the wider aspects of employee wellbeing.

Encouraging people to come to work when they are ill with an infection, can have negative consequences. A good absence management policy addresses the issues around keeping other members of staff safe and lowering the risks of spreading an infectious illness to other employees. Ensuring that an office is well ventilated, with suitable hand washing facilities and other hygiene measures is good practice for employers.

Related: What is a sick day? (Types of sick days and pay entitlement)

How to create an absence policy

An absence management policy usually addresses unplanned leave, such as employee illness, medical problems or unforeseen circumstances, including the need for time off to look after a sick child. This is different to planned absence which is usually covered by holiday or parental leave. An absence policy is a simple plan to explain to members of staff how to report their absence and what they can expect from you as an employer. Here are six steps to creating an absence policy:

1. List possible scenarios

The first step is to brainstorm the reasons why employees ask for unexpected days off. By listing the reasons that employees ask for a leave of absence, you can start to create a procedure to follow for each separate reason given. The list may include the following:

  • illness

  • accident on the way to work

  • a child sent home because of a problem at their school

  • dentist appointment

  • specialist hospital appointment

  • taking a pet to the vet

  • bad weather or storms causing travel delays

  • train strikes or other industrial action on public transport

Related: How to request time off via email (with tips and example)

2. Consider medical appointments

Employers often give employees time off to visit the dentist or attend a doctor's appointment. But it's important to remember this is not a legal requirement. If employees are using their sick leave days for medical appointments, it may be worth thinking about introducing a policy so that employees can request separate time off for this.

3. Plan company best practice

Decide what the organisation believes is an acceptable reason for absence. For example, a car crash or a family bereavement are acceptable reasons for taking days off. In contrast, a day off to attend a friend's hen party is not reasonable, since this can be covered by planned holiday leave.

4. Lay down the consequences

Define what happens if employees go absent without a good reason. Decide what consequences there may be for those who don't show up at work without a good explanation. It may mean that there is a scheduled meeting with a line manager or other manager.

5. Keep records

Set up a system to record staff absences. Keep track of employees who are repeatedly absent. This helps identify employees who may have issues that require further attention.

6. Create a written policy

Once you have established the reasons for acceptable absences and what the organisation is going to do about employees who violate these reasons, you can design an absence policy for managers. Distribute the policy to each employee and keep a copy of it that you can update as necessary. It is a good idea to explain the new policy in a team meeting, which provides employees with an opportunity to ask questions and to ensure that everyone understands the new procedures.

Related: A guide to SSP for part-time workers (FAQs and examples)

What to include in an absence policy

An absence policy lays down an organisation's procedure when an employee is unexpectedly unable to work. Here are some of the essential elements to include:

  • How to report an absence: This lays down the recommended procedures for an employee to follow once they realise they are unable to work that day, including who to contact. It also details how to report the absence, whether they can email, text or make a phone call.

  • When to ask for a fit note: Establish when you expect an employee to ask for a fit note from a medical practitioner. Doctors, occupational therapists, pharmacists and nurses can all write fit notes.

  • How to proceed with a return to work: If there has been a long absence, or if there are ongoing health issues, a meeting can assess whether the employee needs additional support. It's also an opportunity to discuss what has happened at work since the employee went off sick.

  • The amount of sick pay: This establishes how much money the employee receives while they are off and the amount of time they receive the payments for.

Related: A guide to creating holiday request forms in your workplace

Tips for managing employee absence

A good working environment with clear well-being policies can reduce the amount of employee absence. Here are some guidelines to follow when planning staff wellbeing:

Allow generous holiday leave

If employees feel supported and happy they are less likely to call in sick. Providing a generous quota of holidays and planned leave helps employees to plan quality time off. Holidays and sufficient time away from work can contribute to a better work-life balance.

Factor in other events that require time off

Think of scenarios where someone may require a day off, not because they are ill, but for other reasons. Maybe they are attending a friend's wedding, or they want time off to go to their child's sports day. Allowing a few extra days here and there creates a working environment where employees feel valued and supported.

Keep records and use software

There are a number of software programmes that can help manage staff absences. These systems can help you track when someone takes time off and why. They can also allow for easier planned staff absence days, enabling people to book holidays and to see when other people may be requesting the same days off.

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