Absenteeism can be a difficult issue to manage, particularly if you suspect that an employee is lying about its cause. How can a simple change to your absence recording systems make your life and disciplinary action more straight forward?

Managing absences

Employee absence can take many forms; staff may want leave because of bereavement, due to a domestic or family emergency or simply call in sick. Regardless of its root cause, absenteeism disrupts your business; not only are you left short-staffed and work has to be reallocated, but clients and customers may also be let down. But what if you suspect that an employee is abusing their rights to leave and recycling the same old reasons again and again?

One of our members has an employee who stated that his grandmother had died. That is unfortunate, but this was not the first time he had used that particular excuse; at least two other managers recalled him using exactly the same reason for previous absences. Although unlikely, there could be a genuine explanation for example that he also has a step-grandmother and they have all, sadly, passed away but how does our member (politely and sensitively) challenge him about it?

The easiest way to spot any potential problems, be they excuses or patterns of absence, is to record every missed working day or period and the precise reason given for it, in one place. We have created an employee absence record form that you can use for this very purpose. It will allow you to see at a glance the following:

l the name of the manager who carried out the return-to-work interview, if applicable

l the breakdown of leave taken by an employee

l the number of days claimed;

l and the reason they have given for their absence.

When completing the ’absence from/to’ boxes, don’t just put the date for example, 01/11/11-04/11/11 put in the actual days too in other words, Tuesday 01/11/11Friday 04/11/11. This makes it easier to spot if a pattern is emerging.

Meet the employee

If you find any suspicious patterns of absence, or reasons given, meet the employee informally to discuss it. Do remember that this is an investigatory meeting; at this stage, the employee is not subject to disciplinary action. However, if they cannot give you a credible explanation for what has happened, warn them that you will be monitoring their future absences closely. This should do the trick.

If no credible explanation is offered, you can commence disciplinary action immediately, but it very much depends on the circumstances. You may prefer to let them off with a verbal warning and follow up any other suspicious incidents.

Do not forget that any pregnancy or disability-related absences or reasons must always be excluded when deciding whether or not to take disciplinary action.