Developing attendance management policies and practice

Last reviewed on 25/04/2016 12:45

What is an attendance policy and how do I go about producing one?

A range of processes have been found to be effective in supporting staff attendance. However, if introduced and practised poorly they can be a cause of tension and hostility within an organisation.

Therefore, you should manage attendance within a clearly defined policy that sets out the roles and responsibilities of employers and employees and the procedures to be adhered to.

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What format should a policy take?

The format of the attendance policy is up to you, and should suit your circumstances. A page of short points may be sufficient for a small company. The HSE provides an outline of the information (external link) they think is useful to include in an absence policy and includes both your organisation’s commitment to helping employees remain in or return to work and confirmation that your employees can expect you to:

  • work with trade union representatives and other employee representatives to develop and review the operation of the policy
  • make reasonable adjustments to retain an employee who has become disabled or whose disability has worsened so they are not put at a substantial disadvantage in their job
  • support return to work e.g. in the form of adjustments to the workplace or changes to systems or hours of work wherever possible and redeployment where this is necessary
  • agree return to work plans with everyone affected
  • ensure that employees who have suffered ill health, injury or disability will be treated fairly, equally and consistently.

Your policy should also include:

  • your arrangements for recording sickness and other absences
  • provision of leave and time off to help return to work or to attend medical appointments
  • procedures for keeping in contact with staff on sick leave and what is expected from the employee e.g. contact on the first day of absence, a fit note from the doctor for absences in excess of a certain number of days
  • arrangements for return to work interviews
  • how the policy links in with other key policies, such as personnel, health and safety, flexible working, equal opportunities, and company employee benefit schemes.

We have provided a supporting staff attendance policy template with prompts, based on the HSE outline. It is intended as a guide only, so you are free to modify it in order to meet your organisation’s needs.

An alternative example can be found in the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service’s (ACAS) ACAS guide to managing attendance and employee turnover (external site).

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Consultation with employees

You should expect the process to take weeks or months rather than days due to the need for employee consultation and you may want to get the advice of an employment lawyer to check your policy complies with all relevant legislation.

The absence policy needs to be developed and introduced in partnership with employees and their representatives. It needs to exist alongside policies that enable employees to manage their work/life balance without using sickness as a false reason for absence.

Developing a policy in partnership with employees and their representatives will ensure everyone is involved and informed on proposed changes and that where possible any stumbling block to implementation should be identified and ironed out ahead of implementation.

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Supporting employees off sick

Short-term illnesses

When employees notify you of a minor illness that is likely to end within seven days, further contact is not necessary. On return to work, the employee should fill out a self-certification form, which requires them to state the reasons for their absence.

Medical proof of an illness is usually not required for absences of seven days or less. A return to work Interview will be useful to update the absentee with any work developments they may have missed while absent and to discuss any underlying issues if this sort of absence happens often.

Long-term illnesses

In order to manage employees on long-term absences you should keep in regular contact to keep the employee fully aware of their position and your organisation’s arrangements for sick pay. It is recommended that you consult a medical professional for an opinion on the employee’s absence.

When dealing with an employee on long-term absence you should consider:

  • whether it is possible for the employee to return to part time or with flexible hours
  • whether any assistance can be provided in the work area e.g. extra equipment. If the staff member has a disability, (see the section on the Equality Act below) you are required to make reasonable adjustments to help them back to work
  • if alternative work is available that is less demanding on the employee. 

If the employee returns, you should conduct a return to work interview and develop a ‘getting back to work’ programme. Your absence policy should clearly set out the return to work procedure.

Dismissal of an employee should only be considered after a proper investigation after all other options have been considered. Before making a decision, go through all the available options e.g. reasonable adjustment, flexible working, job design, a phased return to work for example. You may have to satisfy an employment tribunal as to the fairness of your decision.

Return To Work Interviews

A return to work interview gives the employer an opportunity to welcome the employee back to work, confirm that their record of absence is correct, and enables them to raise any health or other issues that need addressing with your support.

You should conduct these interviews on the first day an employee returns from sick leave, whether short- or long-term. 

The majority of interviews will be informal and brief. However, if you have identified a problem with an employee’s sickness absence, then the discussion may be more formal in order to find the underlying cause of the employee’s absences. The employee may wish to have a third party present such as a Trade Union representative.

View more information on dealing with employees on sick leave - from ACAS (external link)

Fit Notes

From 6 April 2010, new ‘fit notes’ replaced sick notes and employers usually require them for absences of more than seven days.

The Statement of Fitness for Work, or 'fit note', is a medical statement that doctors issue which advises their patient if they are 'not fit for work' or a new option - 'may be fit for work taking account of the following advice'.

The fit note has space for the GP to give general advice about the impact of the patient’s illness or injury, and tick boxes to suggest common ways in which an employer could support a return to work.

The fit note aims to provide more useful information on how your employee's condition affects what they do and how they might be able to return to work.

A doctor will give a 'may be fit for work' statement if they think that your employee's health condition may allow them to work - as long as you give them the appropriate support.

A doctor may suggest ways of helping an employee get back to work. This might mean discussing a phased return to work, altered hours, amended duties or workplace adaptations. The doctor may also provide general details of the functional effect of the individual's condition.

While you do not have to act on the doctor's advice in a 'may be fit for work' statement, it may help you make simple and practical adjustments to help your employee return to work and reduce unnecessary sickness absence.

You may wish to consult an occupational health professional for advice. These professionals are specifically experienced and qualified in occupational health and safety and can provide you with specific advice tailored to your workplace.

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RIDDOR stands for the Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations 1995. Reporting accidents and ill health at work is a legal requirement.

The information enables the enforcing authorities to identify where and how risks arise and to investigate serious accidents. The enforcing authorities can then help and advise you on preventive action to reduce injury, ill health and accidental loss - much of which is uninsurable.

Employers, the self-employed and those in control of premises must report the following specified workplace incidents:

  • deaths and major injuries
  • accidents resulting in over seven days off work
  • injuries to members of the public or people not at work where they are taken from the scene of an accident to hospital
  • some work-related diseases
  • dangerous occurrences – where something happens that does not result in an injury, but could have done
  • Gas Safe registered gas fitters must also report dangerous gas fittings they find, and gas conveyors/suppliers must report some flammable gas incidents.

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Data Protection Act

Under the Data Protection Act 1998 (the Act), those who collect and use personal information have to follow rules of good practice for handling information (called the data protection principles). The Act also gives rights to individuals whose information they collect and use.

The Act does not prevent you from collecting, maintaining and using sickness absence data. However, it helps to strike a balance between the employer’s need to keep records and the worker’s right to respect for their private life.

For more detailed information, visit the Information Commissioner's guide to how the Act affects you as an employer (external link).

Guidance about absence records can also be found in The Employment Practices Code. Part 2: Employment Records (external site) (revised June 2005) (5.54MB).

Statutory Sick Pay

Statutory sick pay (SSP) is an earnings replacement for employees who are off work through illness. You do not have to pay SSP if you pay company sick pay to your employee for the same days that they would be entitled to SSP, provided it is at least the current rate of SSP. SSP is payable for up to 28 weeks, and is paid for every day the employee would normally be working.

If an employee is working under a contract of service, they are entitled to SSP if:

  • they are sick for at least four days in a row (including weekends and bank holidays and days that they do not normally work)
  • they are earning at least £111 a week.

To get SSP the employee will need to tell you that they are sick, and if required by you, provide some form of medical evidence from the eighth day of their illness. View the Directgov’s web pages on SSP (external link).

Equality Act 2010

The Equality Act 2010 came into force in October 2010. Its main purpose is to bring together and replace a number of Acts and Regulations that form the basis of anti-discrimination law in the UK, including the Disability Discrimination Act. It requires equal treatment in access to employment, regardless of gender, race, disability, sexual orientation, belief and age.

For disabled employees you have a duty to make 'reasonable adjustments' to make sure your employee is not put at a substantial disadvantage by employment arrangements or any physical feature of the workplace.

Examples of the sort of adjustments you should consider, in consultation with the employee:

  • allocating some of the employee’s work to someone else
  • transferring the employee to another post or another place of work
  • making adjustments to the buildings where the employee works
  • flexible working hours - allowing the employee to have different core working hours and to be away from the office for assessment, treatment or rehabilitation
  • providing training or retraining if the employee cannot do their current job any longer
  • providing modified equipment
  • providing a reader or interpreter.

The Access to Work programme (external link) run by Jobcentre Plus allows employers to get advice on appropriate adjustments and possibly some financial help towards the cost of the adjustments.

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Employer consent to access medical notes (PDF 121 KB)

Employers guidance (PDF 110 KB)

Return to work form (PDF 153 KB)

Supporting staff attendance policy (PDF 89 KB)