Sickness absence triggers
Sickness absence triggers are a set of criteria or indicators used by employers to identify employees who have a high level of absence due to illness. Triggers can include a combination of factors such as the frequency, duration, and pattern of absence, as well as the impact of absence on the business.
The purpose of sickness absence triggers is to identify employees who may need additional support or intervention to manage their absence and to help employers manage absence effectively.
Types of sickness absence
Many employees may have absence from work due to sickness at some point. Most absences fit into common categories of absence, which may benefit from different management strategies.
- High frequency of absence: a large number of short-term absences can have a significant impact on the workplace, even if the duration of each absence is relatively short
- Long-term absence: an extended period of absence can impact both the employee and the business and may indicate the need for additional support or intervention, for example, phased rehabilitation plans
- Patterned absence: absences that follow a pattern, such as absence on specific days of the week or after weekends, may indicate an underlying issue that needs to be addressed
- Repeat absences: employees who have a history of repeated absence due to similar health conditions may benefit from additional support and intervention
- Disability: absence related to disabilities may require specific support and legal duties, such as discounting absence periods and making reasonable adjustments
It is important to note that sickness absence triggers are not intended to be used as the sole basis for disciplinary action and should be used in conjunction with other measures, such as regular attendance monitoring and supportive management, to help manage absence effectively. Employers should always follow the ACAS Code when following disciplinary procedures.
Employers should always be mindful of their obligations under employment law, especially the need to make reasonable adjustments for employees with disabilities.
Examples of sickness absence triggers
Most employers manage absence in some way. Although informal steps may be preferable, it is important to apply any criteria across a business fairly. The risk is that treating people differently inside a business could lead to claims of discrimination.
Some commonly used sickness absence triggers are:
- Frequency: intervening if an employee has three or more instances of absence in a rolling six-month period, or who has a total of ten or more days off in the same period.
- Duration: seeking help for an employee who has been absent for four weeks or longer, or who has had two or more absences lasting two weeks or longer.
- Pattern: an employee who frequently takes sick leave on Mondays or Fridays, or who has a pattern of absence related to specific dates or events, may benefit from support before considering whether the issue may be conduct rather than health related
- Repeat absence: an employee who frequently takes leave for the same condition, such as migraines or back pain may benefit from adjustments to the role or environment
- Impact on the business: an employee who regularly takes leave at key times, such as during busy periods, or who is frequently absent from work due to a chronic health condition may benefit from structure support
Some employers use also mathematical formulas like the Bradford Factor as sickness absence triggers, however, there are strengths and weaknesses to using such strategies. For example, they do not consider disabilities particularly well.
These triggers are intended to provide a starting point for employers to identify employees who may need additional support or intervention to manage their absence. They should be used in conjunction with other measures, such as regular attendance monitoring, supportive management, and health and well-being initiatives to help manage absence effectively.