Your guide to an effective absence review meeting

A strategic approach for business owners and employers

First published on Wednesday, Dec 08, 2021

Last updated on Monday, Jul 08, 2024

Navigating employee attendance can be a daunting task. As you strive to maintain a productive and efficient work environment, employee absence can pose significant challenges.

However, conducting an effective absence review meeting is a key tool in your management arsenal that you can use to address these issues.

Our no-nonsense guide provides a step-by-step approach to conducting absence reviews, making sure you are equipped to tackle absenteeism head-on.

Learn how to create a dialogue that supports both your team’s wellbeing and productivity while maintaining a fair and legal process.

Two people having a review after a recent absence

What are absence review meetings?

Absence review meetings are the unsung heroes of HR management, offering you a chance to address and manage employee absenteeism. These meetings allow you to explore the reasons behind an employee’s absence, which could vary from sickness absence to work-related stress.

Such meetings provide insight into an employee’s attendance, specifically focusing on their sickness absence record, helping you chart a course towards better attendance and productivity.

The purpose of an absence review meeting

Essentially, an absence review meeting serves as a channel for building understanding between an employer and an employee. It offers a chance to uncover the causes of absences and find solutions that work for both parties.

Whether it’s a couple of missed days or a long-term sickness absence, these meetings provide a structured, supportive platform for employees to discuss their issues and work towards improving attendance.

It’s not just about asking your employee, ‘Why were you absent?’ but also ‘How can we support you better?’

Benefits of conducting absence review meetings

Beyond the immediate goal of understanding the reasons for an employee’s absence, absence review meetings offer a host of other benefits.

They provide a platform for you to:

  • Show your support
  • Boost employee morale
  • Reduce future sickness absences
  • Identify patterns and trends in absences
  • Gain crucial knowledge to help develop effective strategies for improving attendance

After all, a happy employee is a productive employee.

When to hold an absence review meeting

Timing is everything when it comes to absence review meetings. The decision of when to hold a meeting should be based on individual circumstances, the employee’s attendance record and your workplace policies.

Whether it’s an alarming pattern of short-term absences or a long-term sickness absence, conducting a review meeting at the right time can lead to effective solutions and prevent potential issues from escalating.

Remember, it’s not about policing your employees but about supporting them.

How to prepare for an absence review meeting

Before embarking on an absence review meeting, thorough preparation is necessary. From gathering relevant documents to setting the meeting agenda and inviting the employee, each step is crucial in ensuring a productive discussion.

This preparation sets the tone for the meeting, ensuring that it’s not just another formal meeting but a collaborative process aimed at improving attendance.

Gather relevant documents and evidence

The first step in preparing for an absence review meeting involves gathering relevant documents and evidence.

This can include:

  • Attendance records
  • Medical certificates
  • Any other documents related to the employee’s absence

Having these materials at hand can provide valuable insights into the employee’s absence patterns and underlying issues, paving the way for a constructive discussion. Remember, absence reviews are not about pointing fingers but about finding solutions.

Two people looking at the legalities around absences

Set the agenda for the meeting

Setting a clear and focused agenda is key to conducting a successful absence review meeting. It provides a roadmap for the discussion, ensuring that all important topics are covered.

The agenda should include things like discussing the employee’s absences, exploring potential solutions, and setting expectations for improvement.

Having a well-defined agenda helps keep the conversation on track and ensures that the meeting is productive and goal oriented.

Invite the employee to the meeting

Once the groundwork is laid, it’s time to invite the employee to the meeting. This invitation should clearly convey the purpose of the meeting, the date and time, and the employee’s right to be accompanied by a union representative or a colleague.

Remember, the goal is to create an environment where your employee feels comfortable discussing their absences, so make sure the invitation is respectful and supportive.

How to conduct an absence review meeting

With preparation completed, you can now proceed to conduct the absence review meeting.

This is the time to put your preparation into action, from opening the meeting and setting expectations to discussing the employee’s absences and exploring potential solutions.

Keep in mind that the aim of the meeting is not to penalise your employee but to support them in improving their attendance. Make sure your tone and the tone of the meeting reflect this support.

Open the meeting and set expectations

The way you open the meeting can set the tone for the rest of the discussion.

Start by:

  • Outlining the purpose of the meeting
  • Setting clear expectations
  • Reminding the employee of their representation rights
  • Assuring them of a supportive, non-disciplinary atmosphere

Discuss the employee's absence

Next, delve into the employee’s absence. Start by reviewing the facts and then engage in a dialogue about the reasons behind the absence.

The goal here is not to interrogate but to understand the employee’s perspective. It’s not just about asking the right questions, but also about listening and empathising.

Explore solutions and support

The final part of the meeting should focus on finding solutions and providing support. This could involve discussing reasonable adjustments that could help the employee—from changes in work arrangements to additional support mechanisms.

The aim is to work together to identify suitable solutions that can help the employee improve their attendance.

What are the stages of absence review meetings?

Familiarity with the different stages of absence review meetings is key to a structured and comprehensive approach to managing employee absences. These meetings typically follow a formal process with three formal stages.

Stage 1: Initial absence review meeting

The initial absence review meeting is the first step in the process. This is an opportunity to discuss the employee’s absence, gather medical evidence, and explore potential adjustments and support.

This stage aims to understand the reasons behind the absence and identify how you can help your employee improve their attendance.

Stage 2: Follow-up absence review meeting

The follow-up absence review meeting is all about mapping progress.

It’s a chance to assess the employee’s attendance since the initial meeting, discuss any ongoing concerns, and explore further support options. Depending on the circumstances of the employee’s absence it may be appropriate to issue a warning.

Just remember, the goal here is to continue the dialogue and work collaboratively towards improving your employee’s attendance.

Stage 3: Final absence review meeting

The final absence review meeting is the last chance to resolve the employee’s absence issues.

This is your opportunity to:

  • Review the progress made since the first meeting
  • Determine the appropriate course of action
  • Consider dismissal or redeployment if the employee’s attendance has not improved

Remember, dismissal is always a last resort and should only be considered after exploring all possible support options and adjustments.

Each stage serves a distinct purpose and helps ensure the thorough and effective management of employee absences, with the second formal stage playing a crucial role in the process.

It's best practice to have these stages or similar in place to help you achieve that structured and comprehensive approach if they aren’t already written in a policy.

2 people having a meeting over a persons recent absence

Reasonable adjustments and supporting employees

Providing reasonable adjustments and additional support plays a vital role in managing employee absences. These measures can help employees manage their health issues and improve their attendance.

After all, supporting employees is not just about helping them get back to work, but making sure they are able to perform and progress to their best potential.

What are reasonable adjustments?

Reasonable adjustments are changes made by an employer to remove or reduce disadvantages faced by an employee due to their health condition or disability.

These adjustments could involve changes to employee working conditions, working hours, or the provision of additional equipment or support.

The key is to ensure that these adjustments are ‘reasonable’ and don’t place any undue burdens on yourself and your business.

How to identify and implement reasonable adjustments

This should be a collaborative process involving:

  • Understanding your employee’s needs
  • Consulting with your employee
  • Seeking advice from occupational health professionals
  • Exploring best practices within the industry
  • Exploring suitable adjustments

The goal is to find practical solutions that can help your employee manage their health condition and improve their attendance.

Providing additional support for employees

In addition to reasonable adjustments and mitigating circumstances, providing additional support can play a crucial role in managing employee absences.

This could involve offering flexible working arrangements, providing access to counselling or wellness programs, or simply creating a supportive and understanding work environment.

Remember, every employee is unique, and their support needs will vary. The key to providing effective support is understanding the individual employee’s needs and being responsive to them.

A person in a wheelchair who had the office adapted after a absence

How to manage long-term sickness absence

Handling long-term sickness absence can pose significant challenges and raise sickness absence concerns.

It requires a comprehensive, sensitive approach that includes assessing the employee’s sickness absence record, seeking occupational health advice, considering possible outcomes, and addressing sick pay policies.

The goal is to support your employee’s return to work while ensuring their health and wellbeing.

Assess the employee's sickness absence record

This is the first step in managing long-term sickness absence. It involves reviewing the employee’s attendance history and identifying any patterns or trends.

Understanding the nature and frequency of your employee’s absences can provide valuable insights into their health issues and help in developing effective strategies for managing their absence.

Seek occupational health advice

Seeking occupational health advice can provide valuable insights into your employee’s health condition and their ability to return to work.

An occupational health report, prepared by professionals, can provide advice on appropriate adjustments, support mechanisms, and strategies for managing the employee’s health condition. Their involvement is crucial in ensuring that the employee’s return to work is safe and sustainable.

Possible outcomes for long-term sickness absence

Long-term sickness absence can lead to a range of outcomes. These could include a return to work with or without adjustments, redeployment to a different role, or, in some cases, dismissal.

The goal is always to support your employee’s return to work wherever possible. However, in some cases, dismissal may be the only option if the employee is unable to return to work despite all reasonable adjustments and support.

The role of trade unions and employee representation

Trade unions and employee representatives hold a significant role in absence review meetings. They provide support and representation for employees, ensuring their rights are respected and their views are heard.

Understanding the role of trade unions and employee representation in absence review meetings can help ensure a fair and balanced process.

Rights and responsibilities of a trade union representative in absence meetings

Trade union representatives have specific rights and responsibilities in absence review meetings.

These include the right to accompany employees to meetings, to speak on their behalf, and to help them prepare for the meeting. A trade union representative, also represents the employee’s interests, ensuring the employee’s rights are respected, and assisting the employee in preparing for the meeting.

Recognising and respecting these rights are crucial in ensuring a balanced and fair review process.

Employee representation in absence review meetings

Employee representatives provide support for their colleagues, ensuring their concerns are heard and their rights are respected.

They can help employees prepare for the meeting, provide a supportive presence during the meeting, and assist in following up after the meeting.

A person having a meeting online whilst someone is working from home after recent absence

Appeals process and ensuring compliance

Implementing an appeals process and adhering to applicable laws and regulations comprise a vital part of managing employee absences.

Ensuring a fair appeals process and compliance with the law can help to avoid disputes and maintain a positive workplace environment.

The appeals process for employees

Employees have the right to appeal decisions made during absence review meetings. The appeals process provides an opportunity for employees to challenge decisions that they believe to be unfair or incorrect.

Providing a clear and transparent appeals process can help to ensure fairness and maintain trust between the employer and the employee.

Ensuring compliance with the Equality Act and other regulations

Compliance with the Equality Act and other relevant regulations is crucial in managing employee absences. Employers must ensure that their absence management procedures are fair, transparent, and non-discriminatory.

This includes making reasonable adjustments for employees with disabilities and ensuring that the absence review process respects employees’ rights.

How BrightHR can help with absence reviews

Navigating the intricacies of employee absenteeism can be challenging, but with structured absence review meetings, clear communication, and a supportive approach, it’s possible to manage employee absences effectively.

With BrightHR in your arsenal, you’ll have all the tools and support you need to manage employee absences and conduct absence review meetings at your fingertips.

This includes smart attendance and absence management software that tracks and logs all sicknesses to help you identify patterns and an HR library of expert documents that contains absence management policies and handbooks on managing sickness absences and reviews.

You can also call BrightHR’s 24/7 employment law adviceline to reach a team who is always ready to take your call whenever an issue with absence arises. So, you can proceed with peace of mind that you’re handling the issue in line with the law.

When it comes to providing your employees with additional support BrightHR’s wellbeing and counselling services are there to support you and your teams with 24/7 access to the UK’s top employee assistance programme.

Finally, remember that the ultimate goal of your absence review meeting is not to penalise employees for their absences but to support them in improving their attendance, ensuring their wellbeing, and contributing positively to the workplace.

Lucy Cobb

Employment Law Specialist

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