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Absence management in the workplace

Absence management is one of the key responsibilities of an employer. If absence levels get out of control it can be very damaging for a business.

Can we help?

  • If you are an employer looking for advice on how to manage absence well, take a look at our absence management advice service.
  • If you are an employee who is subject to absence management and feels it is unfair in some way, please refer to our workplace representation service for more information.

Step one – understanding poor attendance

This may seem like an obvious point but many small to medium employers have no systems (or inadequate systems) for recording poor attendance.

Organisations should record:

  • The dates of any absences;
  • Whether the absence is next to a holiday, a bank holiday or a weekend; and
  • The reason for the absence.

You should also keep doctor’s sick notes for a reasonable period, say, a couple of years.

The Bradford Score

One simple way of analyzing absence data is by using what is know as the “Bradford Score” or “Bradford Factor” – all it requires of you is some basic maths – and it is a simple way of recognising that an employee who has had one incident of 5 days illness is a better attendee than an employee who has had 5 incidents of absence lasting one day each.

The calculation works as follows:


  • X = the total number of days absence
    Y = the number of incidents of sickness

The Bradford Score = Y x Y x X

So in the example given above, the first employee scores 5

  • 1 incident x 1 incident x 5 (total days off).

The other employee scores 125

  • 5 incidents x 5 incidents x 5 days off in total = 125

So, at the most simple level, employees with the higher score are the poorer attendees. Obviously, this is a rough guide and you should discuss individual circumstances with your HR or legal advisor.

Patterns of absence

Poor attendees sometimes “give themselves away” by allowing patterns to build up in their non-attendance. For instance, some employees might regularly take Mondays off, or they may take one extra day at the beginning or end of every holiday, or they may take a day before or after a bank holiday.

Step two – get the absence rules in order

It is a good idea make sure that the employees understand what is expected from them.

If you have an endemic absence problem you may need to “relaunch” your rules in relation to absence. It is good practice to have the following documents, up to date and properly considered:

1. Company handbook including:

  • Absence rules – i.e. when and who to inform in the event of a sickness absence;
  • Sick pay – SSP and contractual sick pay rules clearly identified; and
  • Equal opportunities policy and statement.

Please go to our information on the Company Handbook for more information.

2. Contract of employment including:

  • Termination provisions for long term ill health;
  • A requirement on the employee to undertake a medical examination as and when required; and
  • Data protection authority to “process” sensitive personal data.

Please go to  our information on employment contracts for more information

Step Three – consider carrots!

We will look at the “stick” below, but it is a good idea to consider “carrots” to reward employees with good attendance. For instance, a small bonus, a raffle, or a small prize for 100% attendees can be a really good incentive.

Some companies run an annual raffle with really good prizes with different categories for employees who have performed well in terms of sickness. You must, of course be careful that you do not penalise employees with a disability.

Absence management can work better with a mix of “carrot” and “stick”.


Don’t forget to consider disability discrimination

Disability discrimination is a complex area of law. The definition of who has a “disability” is very wide. If an employee does have a disability it can be unlawful discrimination to count any disability related absences against them – for instance in the calculation of any bonus as suggested above. This is a complex area of law which requires expert advice. See our pages on Disability Discrimination for more information.

Step Four – speak to those with poor attendance

If you have employees with poor attendance it is a good idea to meet with them to discuss this. You can find out the reasons for any absences, consider if their condition is made worse by work in any way, or if they need any help or support. At the same time, you must emphasise that there are rules relating to absence and continued poor absence cannot be tolerated. Make sure you keep a careful note of the meeting.

Don’t forget to consider the implications of disability discrimination! In particular you ust consider reasonable adjustments.

Contact Ironmonger Curtis with Bell & Buxton Employment Solicitors for further information.


For business law advice call 0114 249 59 69


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