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I have an employee who calls in sick all the time. What should I do?

Dealing with absenteeism is a major challenge in our industry. When absenteeism rates are high, wage costs go up and service levels are negatively affected. There are also intangible costs to the business such as increased stress levels for the team and a decrease in morale, along with increased administration. So what should you do if you have an employee who continually calls in sick?

Addressing absenteeism in your business does not only require that you deal with the individual who frequently calls in sick, it also requires you to  clearly communicate your expectations and policies concerning sick leave to your whole team. It is important that you discuss the issue of absenteeism with the whole team if it is starting to negatively impact the business. Staff meetings are an ideal time to do this. The following tips will help you manage absenteeism within your business.

1. Have a sickness / attendance policy

You should have a policy detailing what staff need to do if they are unable to work because of illness. For example, is a text okay, or do they need to phone you? Do they need to contact you directly or is it okay to contact the manager/supervisor on duty? How far in advance would you expect an employee to call you to let you know that they are sick? When may an employee be expected to provide proof of illness/injury? This policy should clearly set out your expectations and should be explained to each employee before they begin working with you.

2. Keep track of attendance / follow up with staff

Be sure to keep track of attendance and follow-up with your staff about their absences. If you see a pattern developing, be sure to speak to the employee in question. It is important to nip these emerging issues in the bud, before they become a real problem.

3. Ask for proof of sickness

The Holidays Act 2003 gives employers the legal right to request proof of sickness or injury (ie a medical certificate) from an employee if they have been away from work for a period of three or more calendar days (not necessarily working days). You can also request a medical certificate within the three days using the following provisions: you must inform the employee as early as possible that proof is required and you must also meet the employee’s reasonable expenses in obtaining the proof (eg. you pay for their GP visit). If you have concerns that the employee’s sickness claim is ingenuine, you may wish to exercise this right.

4. Meet with employees individually

If an employee is taking a large amount of sick days or their sick leave has a “pattern” to it (for example, they call in sick every second Sunday), you should meet with him/her to discuss this. Show him/her the attendance records that you have kept and get their feedback on this. You are entitled to seek information about whether they have an on-going health concern. If the sick days are not genuine, then letting the employee know that you are keeping track of attendance should have a positive impact on the situation, as the employee is less likely to continue to pull “sickies.” If the employee does have genuine health concerns, it is important that you discuss these with the employee and try and work out a way forward that works for both parties. If your employee does have an on-going health concern that means that they are frequently absent and this is in turn affecting your business, you may be dealing with an “incapacity” situation. To address such a situation, you will need to follow a formal process, involving several meetings with the employee in question.

Please call the Restaurant Association Helpline on 0800 737 827 if you a dealing with a situation like this. 

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