Ask the HR expert

July 13, 2016

Jayne Hart, human resources expert and director of The HR Dept Newcastle, answers your queries…

Q: I have an employee who is often absent for short periods. It is costing me money and stretching my goodwill as well as impacting on the team. It is worse in the summer and I suspect it’s not always genuine. What can I do?

Firstly, you are not alone. There is a remarkable correlation between soaring temperatures and increased rates of absenteeism down to alleged illness (aka ‘summer sickies’).

A pattern of sick days appended to Bank Holidays, weekends and sporting events may be an indicator that sickness is not genuine.

Figures from the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) show that sickness absence costs small businesses on average £1500 per year and for nine per cent it costs more than £5000. Add to this the disruption of short-term absence and the impact on productivity and team morale, and you find it is not something to ignore in the hope it will improve. I can guarantee it won’t; it will get worse.

Standard procedure for an employee off absent on short-term sickness should be a direct conversation (not by text) with their manager before or in the first hour of their start time explaining the reasons and the expected length of absence. Set this out in their employment contract.

On their return they should attend an interview with their manager to discuss it and complete a self-certification form. Further investigation by the company is permitted, although it is good practice to keep an open mind and not jump to conclusions before establishing as many facts as possible.

If a ‘summer sickie’ is discovered it can be treated as an unauthorised absence, which is a disciplinary offence. Faced with a glaringly obvious pattern of absence it is often difficult for an employee to defend.

I advise that as standard you keep good records of staff absences so that trends and areas for concern can be spotted. It is also important to have a clear Sick Absence Policy that your staff are aware of.

Do you have a HR question for Jayne? Email

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