Employment Lawyers Annual Leave

Employee Absenteeism – What can you do about it?

Excessive absenteeism can be costly for business in terms of both replacement costs and lost productivity.

If not managed properly, chronic offenders can also be a source of frustration for those employees who generally do the right thing.

Below are 6 things that you can do to improve attendance in the workplace:

1. Make Employees Aware of Expectations

Make sure employees are aware of attendance expectations and the effects of excessive absenteeism on the business including remaining team members, productivity and customer service. This sort of information should be made clear at an employee’s induction and reinforced through your employee manual, code of conduct and/or Personal/Carer’s Leave policy.

2. Analyse Attendance Records

Analyse attendance records to properly identify the extent of employee absence and any particular trends. For example, employees who seem to always be off on a Monday or a Friday or before or after a public holiday. There is no law against confronting an employee and asking for an explanation as to why their absences mostly seem to occur on particular days.

3. Have a Clear Policy in Place

Have a clear policy and procedure that employees must follow if they are going to be absent.

For example, you could state that employees:

  1. Make direct contact with a manager or someone in authority to advise of their absence, the nature of their illness and when they expect to return. Do not allow employees to just speak with the receptionist or send email or text messages to a work colleague. If an employee is not genuine about being sick, they may think twice if they are required to speak directly with the boss.
  2. Are expected to make contact by a certain time or within a specified time period.
  3. Are required to provide evidence of their illness which may be a Doctor’s Certificate or Statutory Declaration. Note: The Fair Work Act 2009 no longer requires an employee to produce a medical certificate or statutory declaration. Instead, the Personal/Carer’s Leave National Employment Standard (“NES”) requires that employees provide evidence that would satisfy a “reasonable person” of their unfitness for work. Therefore, it may not be considered reasonable to expect employees to produce a medical certificate for every single day absent unless the sick leave is excessive or there is a clear pattern of single day absences e.g.. Fridays and Mondays or every second Thursday etc. Given the NES does not define “reasonable” it is timely to ensure that your business has a clear policy in place which defines what evidence requirements are expected of employees. Additionally, the NES provides that an Enterprise Agreement or Modern Award may specify evidence requirements in relation to Personal/Carer’s leave.

4. Make Employees Aware of the Consequences

Make employees aware of the consequences of not adhering to your Personal/Carer’s leave policy which may include disciplinary action. Remember to focus on whether the employee has followed the correct notice and evidence procedures rather than try and establish whether the person was genuinely sick or not. Only a Doctor is qualified to do that!

5. Follow Up With Employees Upon Their Return

Follow up with employees face to face when they return to work and enquire about their wellness and whether they are fit to resume normal duties. This lets the employee know that you are concerned about their well-being and that you have “noticed” their absence.

6. Identify Any Hidden Causes

Identify any hidden causes. Often poor attendance is just a symptom of a greater problem and not the real cause. Aside from common illness, there can be many reasons why an employee is taking excessive sick leave:

  • Drug and alcohol problems
  • Issues with a work colleague or supervisor
  • Not coping with workload or some other aspect of their work
  • Family/marital issues
  • Work/Life Balance

Before launching into disciplinary action, it makes good sense to speak with the employee concerned and try to uncover the root cause of the problem. You may then be able to determine some strategies to address the situation. For example:

  • Ensure you have a Drug and Alcohol Policy in place and adhere to it. The policy should include a provision for drug and alcohol counselling/support for employees who are willing to accept it.

Note: Drug and alcohol abuse may be viewed as a disability and therefore if an employee claims they have a drug or alcohol dependency, the employee’s absence should be assessed in that context.

  • Confront any conflicts or other issues that may exist between team members or supervisors with a view to resolving them.
  • Provide further training/coaching/mentoring if the employee is not coping with workload. Sometimes employees need to be shown how to work more efficiently and ways to cope under pressure.
  • Provide the employee with access to professional support services or make some temporary changes to work arrangements to assist employees with difficulties at home.
  • If possible, introduce more flexible work practices if the employee is struggling with their work and family commitments (under the NES employees have a legal right to request flexible work practices under certain circumstances).

It is possible to terminate the employment of a staff member who has been absent on extended sick leave exceeding a period of 3 months.

However, this can be complicated as there are a number of workplace laws that protect the rights of employees who are absent on sick leave. We recommend employers seek legal advice prior to taking such action.


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