Absence management and measurement

These notes give introductory guidance. They:

  • highlight some of the main causes of absence
  • provide practical information on managing sickness absence effectively
  • outline the implications of legislation on managing absence

Employee absence is a significant cost to businesses.

Types of absence

There are many reasons why people take time off work. These include:

  • short-term sickness absence (uncertificated, self-certificated or covered by a doctor's certificate)
  • long-term sickness absence
  • unauthorised absence or persistent lateness
  • other authorised absences e.g. annual leave; parental leave; time off for public or trade union duties, or to care for dependents; compassionate leave; educational leave.

These guidelines focus on sickness absence issues.

Why measure absence?

A key element of managing absence effectively is accurate measurement and monitoring. An organisation must assess if it has a problem with absence, its extent and the best way to tackle it.

Employers should collect and use data 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 provide evidence of how absence impacts on the bottom line and why it is worth investing in an effective absence management program.

How to measure 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 measure expresses the percentage of total time available which has been lost due to absence:

Total absence (in working days) in the period x 100
Possible total (working days) in the period

For example, if an organisation employs 20 staff, working a 5 day week, the number of potential working days available in a year would be 20 x 52 (weeks) x 5 = 5,200 working days. If each employee is entitled to 20 days holiday, the total actual working days available would be 4,800.

If absence in the year totals 160 days, the lost time rate is:

160 x 100 = 3.3 %

It can be calculated separately for individual departments of groups of employees to reveal particular absence problems.

Bradford Factor

The Bradford Factor identifies persistent short-term absence for individuals, by measuring the number of spells of absence. On the basis that frequent, short term absence is more disruptive to a business than a longer spell of absence (say 2 weeks due to influenza) as it is more difficult to cover, it is a useful measure of the disruption caused by this type of absence. It is calculated using the formula: 

S x S x D

S = number of spells of absence in 52 weeks taken by an individual
D = total number of days of absence in 52 weeks taken by that individual

For example:
10 one-day absences: 10 x 10 x 10 = 1,000 Bradford points
5 two-day absences: 5 x 5 x 10 = 250 Bradford points
2 five-day absences: 2 x 2 x 10 = 40 Bradford points
1 ten-day absence: 1 x 1 x 10 = 10 Bradford points

The higher the total of Bradford Factor points, the more disruptive to the business that individual's absence is. Armed with this information, managers can meaningfully discuss with individuals the impact on the organisation of their absences. 

If the Bradford factor is determined for each employee, the organisation can set a "trigger point" (e.g. 500 Bradford points) and can meet with employees who exceed the trigger so as to identify the underlying causes of their absence. Simply bringing to an employee's attention the fact that absence is being closely monitored can have a big impact on reducing the amount of short term absence. The level of the trigger point will differ between organisations and, as absence levels reduce, the trigger point can be lowered.

What absence policies need to contain

The first step to managing absence effectively is to ensure that you have a clear policy in place that supports your organisation's business objectives and culture. Legislation requires employers to provide staff with information on 'any terms and conditions relating to incapacity for work due to sickness or injury, including any provision for sick pay'. 

Effective absence policies must spell out employees' rights and obligations when taking time off from work due to sickness. The policy should:

  • provide details of contractual sick pay terms and its relationship with Social Security Sickness Benefit
  • outline the process employees must follow if taking time off sick - covering when and whom employees should notify if they are not able to attend work
  • include when (after how many days) employees need a self-certificate form
  • advise when they require a medical certificate (sick-note) from their doctor to certify their absence
  • mention that the organisation reserves the right to require employees to attend an examination by a company doctor and (with the worker's consent) to request a report from the employee's doctor
  • include provisions for return-to-work interviews as these have been identified as the most effective intervention to manage short-term absence.

Managing short-term absence

Absence interventions

Effective interventions in managing short-term absence include:

  • a proactive absence management policy
  • return-to-work interviews
  • disciplinary procedures for unacceptable absence levels
  • use of trigger mechanisms such as the Bradford Factor to review attendance
  • involving trained line managers in absence management
  • providing sickness absence information to line managers
  • restricting sick pay
  • involving occupational health professionals.

Return-to-work interviews can help identify short-term absence problems at an early stage. They also provide managers with an opportunity to start a dialogue with staff over underlying issues, which might be causing the absence. 

The use of disciplinary procedures for unacceptable absence may be used to make it clear to employees that unjustified absence will not be tolerated and that absence policies will be enforced. 

Involving line managers 

Line managers have an important role to play, either directly or indirectly, in the interventions to reduce absence levels. Managers need good communications skills to encourage employees to discuss any problems they may have at an early stage so that employees can be given support or advice before matters escalate.

Line managers need to be trained in:

  • the organisation's absence policies and procedures
  • their role in the absence management program
  • legal and disciplinary aspects of absence
  • role of occupational health services
  • operation (where applicable) of trigger points
  • development of return-to-work interview skills
  • counselling skills.

Managing long-term absence

It is vital organisations have a formal strategy in place to help employees to get back to work after a prolonged spell of sickness or injury-related absence. Awareness of potential disability discrimination claims will also be crucial with the Disability Discrimination legislation place. 

The role of the line manager is also crucial in managing long-term absence but other interventions are also important. These include: 

  • occupational health involvement
  • restricting sick pay
  • changes to work patterns or environment
  • return-to-work interviews
  • rehabilitation program.

There are four typical elements in the recovery and return-to-work process. 

  • Keeping in contact with sick employees - ensure contact is maintained on a regular basis using a sensitive and non-intrusive approach. The form of this contact should be agreed with the member of staff and manager and, where appropriate, the union or employee representative.

  • Planning and undertaking workplace controls or adjustments - some obstacles may hinder an employee's return to work. A risk assessment can identify measures or adjustments to help workers return and stay in work. Examples may include:

    • allowing a gradual return-to-work, e.g. building up from part-time to full-time over a period of weeks
    • changing work patterns or management style to reduce pressure and give the employee more control
    • altering the employees working hours, e.g. allowing flexi-working to accommodate family demands
    • accommodating the employee's mobility.
  • Using professional advice and treatment - occupational health professionals should be able to play a major role in evaluating the reason for absence, carrying out health assessments, and assisting HR professionals and managers in planning a return to work. 

  • Planning and co-ordinating a return-to-work plan - a return to work plan must be agreed by the employee and the line manager, and any other staff likely to be affected. The plan needs to include:

    • the goals, such as modified working hours, or a modified job role
    • the time period
    • a statement about the new working arrangements
    • the checks that will need to be made to make sure the plan is put into practice
    • the dates when the plan will be reviewed by the employee and the line manager.

It may be helpful to appoint someone to co-ordinate the return-to-work process. This may include keeping colleagues of the absent employee informed of progress, so that all understand the situation, as well as easing the transition back to work and maintaining working relationships. 

The legal position

Used properly, the Employment (Jersey) Law 2003 provides the main legal tools for facilitating absence management. The Health and Safety at Work (Jersey) Law also has an impact on absence management, particularly in relation to risk assessment.   

Disability discrimination

Under the Disability Discrimination Regulation an employer need to make 'reasonable adjustments' for employees who have a disability. The types of adjustments that employers might be required to consider include:

  • making physical adjustments to the workplace
  • allocating some of the disabled person's duties to another person
  • transferring the disabled person to another vacant post, with or without reasonable adjustments being made
  • altering the disabled person's working hours through, for example, part-time working, job sharing or other flexible hours arrangements
  • providing special equipment to assist the disabled person to perform his or her tasks, and giving training in the use of the equipment.

Absence and pregnancy

Employers should record pregnancy-related sickness absence separately from other sickness absences. Employers have no obligation to provide different sick-pay provision for women who take time off work for reasons related to their pregnancy. However an employer who includes absence related to pregnancy in any assessment of an employee's sickness record, for example in a redundancy exercise or for disciplinary reasons, will be vulnerable to claims such action is unfair and, following the introduction of Sex Discrimination legislation, to a claim of sex discrimination.  Likewise the recording of absence linked to a disability may give rise to claim via the Tribunal.

Click here to see our short video on an absence management process.


February 2023

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