Absence Policies and Procedures – Essential Employer Tools

How does casual absence affect your organization’s bottom line?  Many employers today are not aware of how the total cost of absence affects their company.

Ineffective or dated Absence Management policies are often the culprit where excessive casual absence is concerned.  If employees are either not aware of the policies or the policies are out of date and not effective an organization’s bottom line suffers.  Some employers will also not have formal policies in place, for a variety of reasons.  This will also negatively affect their bottom line.

Employers need to ensure that they have current and relevant Absence policies and procedures in place to address employees who are away from the workplace due to illness.  When absence is not managed properly problems such as loss of production or a reduction in services can arise and staff morale can be adversely affective.

Current policies created specifically for your organization will allow you to illustrate to employees that they are being treated fairly, equally and reasonably, which is crucial if employees need to be disciplined or eventually dismissed for poor attendance.


Creation/Amendment of Policies:

The larger the organization, the more difficult it can be to control sickness or other absences and their associated costs.  Many employers find it useful to have a current written Human Resources policy and procedure that informs employees the exact process for a variety of absences.

Sickness related absences can be casual (less than 3 days consecutive absence) to short or long-term in nature.

When employees know that their absences are being captured and reviewed or documented, their level of absence tends to decline as a matter of course.  The same can be said about the processes an employer puts into place regarding meeting and speaking with employees.  Some employers publish anonymous statistics that indicate the difficulties created by unacceptable absence levels.  This will reinforce your policies and employees will remain aware of the most current absence levels for the organization.


Best Practices:

  • Absence management should always be conducted in an environment of mutual trust and confidence, as well as safety and a healthy workplace;
  • Managers who develop a relationship including mutual trust and respect with their staff enable open discussion and support which encourages employees to honour internal corporate policies;
  • Incorporate fair and understandable processes and policies for sickness and absence and develop these with your corporate culture in mind;
  • All contracts of employment should include a clause referring to a specific procedure or policy which should also include an overview of the processes;
  • Contracts of employment should also include a clause requiring employees to agree on request, to undergo a medical examination by an occupational health or other medical professional and to grant release of the related medical report to the disability management department/specialist at the employer.  All such requests for medical must be tied in to absence and disability management policies;
  • Employers must take reasonable steps to remedy the cause of illness/injury to employees and prevent recurrence when sickness absence is due to a workplace problem;
  • Policies should include a statement ensuring employees are not expected to attend work while unfit medically, regardless of the inconvenience their absence may cause the employer.


Types of Absence:

Employees will be away from the workplace for a variety of reasons:

  • Casual absence (less than a specific number of consecutive days), certified or uncertified;
  • Short-term sickness absence (up to and including a specified number of days or weeks absence);
  • Long-term sickness absence (usually paid for by an insurer through an employer sponsored program);
  • Unauthorized absences or persistent lateness;
  • All other authorized absences including unpaid leaves, maternity, paternity, educational and all other authorized absences.


Measurement of Absence:

Why would an employer want to measure any or all forms of absence by employees?  A key element of managing absence is accurate measurement and monitoring of all absence.  When an organization assesses the difficulties they experience with absence, they are able to look at its extent and the best way to work through the absence related issues at hand.

The data should be collected to identify particular patterns of absence and underlying causes, for example, the management style of a particular manager or an increase in workloads. It can also provide evidence of how absence impacts on the bottom line and why it is worth investing in an effective absence management programme or Human Resources database.

Accurate records should be kept of the employee’s absence and the different reasons for the absence, e.g. sickness, holiday, etc. It is best to record the specific reasons for the sickness where this information is available such as colds or flu in order that your organization can see repeated reasons for absence. Regular patterns that emerge should as regular absences on Mondays or Fridays may indicate that the sickness absence is not genuine.


Measurement of Time Lost:

There are a number of measures that can be used to assess absence, each of which gives information about different aspects of absence. 

Lost Time Rate –

This is most common measure of absence. It expresses the percentage of total time available which has been lost due to absence.  It can be calculated separately for individual departments of groups of employees to reveal particular absence problems.

Frequency Rate –

The method shows the average number of absences per employee, expressed as a percentage. It does not provide any indication of the length of each absence period, or any indication of employees who take by counting the number of employees who take at least one spell of absence in the period, rather than to total number of spells of absence, the calculation gives an individual frequency rate.


Causes of Absence:

Various causes of absence must be measured and analyzed when an organization reviews its absence policies or is in the process of developing such policies.

• Minor illnesses (including colds, flu, etc.)

• Back pain

• Stress

• Skeletal injuries

• Recurring medical conditions

• Mental health

• Home/family responsibilities

• Other absences not due to genuine ill health


The Basics:

Absence policies should contain clear provisions supporting your organization’s business objectives and culture.  Various forms of government legislation must be taken into account when formulating your organization’s internal policies.

Effective absence policies must include employees’ rights and obligations when taking time away from the workplace due to sickness.

The policy should include the following:

  • Details of contractual sick pay terms and their relationship with statutory sick pay;
  • Outline the processes employees must follow if taking time away from the workplace due to sickness.  Who should employees notify and under what time restraints must these notifications take place;
  • After how many consecutive days of absence must employees complete a sick day certificate;
  • Make note that the organization reserves the right to require employees to attend an independent third party medical assessment and under what conditions
  • Include various provisions for return to work initiatives as well as early intervention;
  • State clearly those employees who fail to follow procedures regarding notification of absence or who fail to provide medical certificates where required will be subject to disciplinary action.


Managing Long-Term Absence:

Various interventions are useful and possible at the workplace when managing longer term absences.

  • Involving Occupational Health can be helpful when managing absences that are longer term in nature (but have not reached the “long-term disability” stage);
  • Supervisor involvement must form part and parcel of the absence policy;
  • Sick pay can be developed in a fashion that will pay a percentage of actual wages after a specified number of days absence;
  • A formal rehabilitation program should form part of the absence policy;
  • Return to work interviews and management also form an integral part of all absence policies.


Elements of Recovery and Return to Work:

  • Staying in touch with sick employees – contact should be maintained on a regular basis using a non-intrusive approach.  All contact should be agreed to by the employee and management including direct supervisors and where appropriate a union representative;
  • A risk assessment will identify measures or adjustments to assist a disabled employee return to the workplace and stay at work;
  • Graduated return to work plans are crucial in bringing employees back to the workplace and must include input from the employee, treating physician, management, direct supervisor and where appropriate a union representative;
  • A structured return to work committee should be in place to coordinate all return to work efforts including detailed graduated return to work planning.


Confidentiality – PIPEDA:

Employers must be aware of requirements under legislation regarding obtaining, storing and use of employee personal information.  “Personal information” will also include medical documentation obtained throughout the course of a short or longer term absence.

All internal policies must include statements about confidential information obtained from employees and employers must review these policies annually to ensure they are being adhered to as well as to ensure policies remain relevant.

In Summary:

All internal policies and procedures promoting effective absence management are crucial to the internal working of any organization.  Effective absence management is also about creating work environments and cultures where employees are less likely to want to be absent from the workplace.

A.R.S. understands that the costs involved in managing absence and creating appropriate internal policies and procedures.  Effective creation of policies and adjustment to current policies is essential in managing absence in the workplace.

For additional information regarding formal absence policy creation and all other Employer Services offered by A.R.S. please contact:

Mary Crunkleton – Director of Employer Services
Telephone: 416-510-2468 or Toll Free: 1-877-304-2239


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