Is there a way to cut down on sick leave?

I currently employ around 40 people and am convinced some staff are taking too many sick days. What's the best way to deal with this without a committed HR department? I am concerned about offending those who are genuinely ill and don't want to introduce anything too draconian which has them coming in when they really shouldn't.

A. Derek Kemp of Liquid HR writes

If there are individuals with a record of excessive sicknessabsence, providing the measure of what is excessive is applied consistently, there should be no problem in managers sitting down with the relevant employees and conducting a ‘concern interview’, expressing natural concern for the employee and exploring the outlook for attendance in the future, but also making clear the business implications arising from high levels of absence. At the very least, this will communicate that the organisation is taking sickness absence seriously.

Vital tools for employers are an absence reporting procedure and the means to monitor attendance routinely. The absence reporting procedure should be communicated to all employees. Make clear that staff must report in when they expect to be absent, and must provide a medical certificate for absences longer than seven days. It might prove helpful to include in the procedure standards for reporting in, and to emphasise how failure by an employee to report in will result in his/her absence being treated as unauthorised and subject to the disciplinary procedure. Ensuring employees self-certificate upon returning after absences of seven days or less will mean all periods of absence are accounted for. If an employee is found later not to have been sick, there are grounds for alleging gross misconduct and, if proved, for summary dismissal.

Routine monitoring of attendance, whether by review of computerised records or having line managers complete weekly/monthly attendance records, should enable patterns of absence to be identified that may point to abuse of sick leave. Some organisations establish triggers of absence (such as five days late in a month, or 15 days sickness in a rolling 12-month period), which automatically prompt investigation. Making it routine for managers to sit down with employees after a period of sickness absence to catch up on what’s happened, but also for the manager to express reasonable concern and assure himself/herself that the employee is fit and able to resume work, will reinforce the idea that sickness absence is a matter taken seriously.


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