The impact of persistent short term absences on a small team or business can be significant in terms of output, morale and cost.  Recent findings have shown that the average number of sick days in the UK is 9.1 days per employee costing UK businesses over £31 billion per annum.

Taking the appropriate action early on will send out a clear signal to your staff and deter ‘sickies’ from becoming an additional and acceptable form of absence.

This guide provides advice on dealing with an unacceptable level of intermittent short term sickness absence.

1.  Keep absence records and review them – Are there any trends, such as Mondays or Fridays?  Are there a range of minor ailments such as headaches, sickness, stomach upset?  Are there frequent episodes of few days?

2. Set targets for attendance – Trigger points taking into account the number of days and episodes of sickness absence will quickly highlight problem areas.

3. Arrange a face-to-face meeting after every episode of sickness absence – Present your findings in a factual and supportive way.  Give the employee the opportunity to disclose any underlying medical conditions.  Back to work interviews alone have been shown to be a significant deterrent to persistent short term sickness offenders.

4. Communicate your concerns – That the frequency of sickness absence is unacceptable and there must be an improvement.  Ask the employee what they are prepared to do to address this issue and take responsibility for their own well-being.

5. Set expectations and take appropriate action – Give them the opportunity to improve attendance and warn them that a failure to improve attendance may lead to dismissal, as per your disciplinary procedure.  Set objectives and issue the appropriate sanction if there is no improvement, such as a first, second and final warning.

6. Consider dismissal – You should be in a strong position to dismiss fairly, although each case will depend on its own facts and the existing sickness absence policy which provides for the level of warning to be issued.  Seeking professional HR advice for steps 4 and 5 is recommended to ensure that the risk of an unfair dismissal or disability discrimination claim is minimised.

Ramshaw HR runs a half day workshop on Managing Short Term Sickness Absence.  For more information, contact


By Bruce Ramshaw

Principal Consultant

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