Can businesses use covid related absences as triggers for absence management? Will this help to create a sustainable workforce?

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26 January, 2022

Emma Swan
Partner and Head of Commercial Employment

During the pandemic, many employers have found difficulty in monitoring absence and taking formal action where employees are absent for significant periods of time. There are growing concerns regarding the severity and longevity of the effects of the virus; thus, many employers feel unable to enforce a strict absence management process and warnings as they previously may have done.

Many organisations are treating sickness absence related to COVID-19 outside of their normal sickness absence reporting system and discounting these for formal absence management purposes. Some employees may need to self-isolate multiple times and should not be unfairly penalised as part of a system that uses 'trigger points' to highlight absence patterns that could ordinarily be a cause for concern. Effective absence management is about supporting employees with health issues to help them recover and return to work. In the same respect, a sustainable workforce is a work environment that looks after its employees and cares about health and wellbeing - not one that unfairly penalises employees for something which in the case of COVID-19 is arguably outside of their control.

Other organisations however are taking a stricter approach and are accounting for such absence and proceeding with formal absence meetings for fear of the system being abused by employees wrongly reporting COVID-19 related absences in order to avoid obtaining any formal warnings or a formal absence management process being invoked.

Whilst employers need to ensure a consistent and sustainable workforce in order to meet business demand employers should consider the following steps to help achieve this without introducing the risk of taking into account COVID-19 related absences as triggers for formal meetings (and potentially warnings) under any sickness absence procedure:

  1. Noting and revising the advised covid regulations and specified isolation periods to minimise an employee's period of absence;
  2. Understanding the effects of the virus;
  3. Communicating with employees regarding their symptoms and a possible return to work and being clear on what the company's position and reporting procedure is including what is considered to be acceptable evidence of a positive test;
  4. Some employees may be covered by the Equality Act 2010. In this instance, employers are obliged to make reasonable adjustments to accommodate a return to work;
  5. Potential alternative working patterns, home/hybrid/flexible working and the introduction of support services for their employees.

It is important that employers do still monitor covid related absence in line with standard sickness absence and ensure that they are offering support to their employees during their time off work but caution should be taken if you are thinking of taking such absences into account for the purposes of any formal sickness absence process.

For more information contact Emma Swan in our Employment & HR department via email or phone on 01254 222354. Alternatively send any question through to Forbes Solicitors via our online Contact Form.

Learn more about our Employment & HR department here

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