How to handle employee absences

Handling employee absences and sickness can be tricky for your business—unless you have a solid, thorough absence policies in place.

First published on Thursday, Sep 16, 2021

Last updated on Thursday, Sep 09, 2021

4 min read

You’ve probably been there before—an employee calls in sick or says they can’t make it into work…but they haven’t specified why.

While this can be frustrating or disruptive, how you plan for and react to employee absences can make all the difference to your day-to-day.

Lucky for you, we’re the resident experts on all things HR and people-management, so we’ve put together our top tips for handling employee absences.

Put an absence policy in place

First things first: you ***need* an employee absence management policy.**

This policy should outline how sickness-related absences will be dealt with and should specify what qualifies as:

• Short-term absence

• Long-term absences

• Unauthorised absences

When your absence policy is complete, share it clearly with your employees. Doing so ensures your employees know how each instance of absence will be handled and what procedure will be followed.

Having an absence policy in place will ensure consistency. This is crucial as it protects you from any employee claims.

Handling sickness absences

Return to work interview

One of the simplest ways of handling sickness absences is to conduct a ‘return to work’ interview. This conversation will bring to light any issues an employee has, whether that’s personal or work-related. It may mean you alter their work hours, allow them to work from home, or take time off for medical appointments.

Record keeping is another useful practice.

The benefit of tracking employee absences is that patterns will appear. For instance, does one of your employees always miss the Friday of a Bank Holiday? Or say they’re feeling unwell the Monday they’re due in after a week off?

Monitoring absences will make patterns easier to spot and provides you with proof if you need to raise your concerns with the employee in question. In the end, the reoccurring absences may be something an employee needs help with, so approach the situation cautiously.


Whether it’s a short or long-term absence, it’s important that you reach out to the absent individual. You can do so by phone, email, and in some cases, a home visit. Getting in touch will give you an insight into their illness and how long they think they’ll be absent for. It will also help you prepare for their return, the kind of preparation that will put both of your minds at ease.

As you can see, managing long-term sickness absences, or any leave of absence doesn’t have to be complicated. Just approach each case individually, assess the situation, and help your employee where you can.

When things get a bit serious…

In extreme cases, such as long-term sickness, dismissal for absence may be considered.

If you do decide to go down the dismissal route, you’ll need to show that the procedure used was fair and reasonable. Failure to follow fair procedures could leave your business open to a claim for unfair dismissal.

When dismissing an employee because of medically certified incapacity, certain criteria must be met, including:

• You have all material facts concerning the employee’s sickness

• You must have given the employee enough notice that their capability to fulfil their role is being investigated and may lead to dismissal

• You must have given the employee the option to influence your decision.

• You must be seen to offer reasonable accommodations for the employee to return to work

In certain cases, the employee’s long-term sickness may have been the result of work activities. In this event, it’s still possible that this may lead to dismissal which may require specialist advice.

Looking to streamline your HR admin?

BrightHR is the perfect tool for tracking staff sickness days, attendance at work, and more. With Bright’s smart HR software, you can:

• Record an absence with ease and instantly spot when someone takes too much sick leave

• Scan fit notes, self-certification forms and hospital letters with your phone into your unlimited storage space

• Arrange cover and update senior staff or managers from anywhere

• Get push notifications reminding you to check how employees are recovering, so you can prepare well in advance for when they’re due back at work.

Click here to try out your FREE BrightHR demo.

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