Lessons from recent absence management casesPosted in : Supplementary Articles ROI on 15 July 2019
Absenteeism is a substantial cost for every business in Ireland. Aside from the financial cost to organisations, there are also the other direct costs such as the requirement to replace absent staff with other workers or overtime payments, the cost of medical referrals, the indirect costs such as the effect on productivity and quality, the increased work pressure on other colleagues, and the administration time in managing absence.
Mark Galbrailth v Donegal Meat Processors
That being said, it’s important that we, as managers, manage absenteeism in a fair and proactive manner. When dealing with absences, it is important to ensure that your company policy is implemented consistently for all employees from the beginning of each and every absence. For example in the case of Mark Galbrailth v Donegal Meat Processors, the unfair dismissal was upheld because the employee was not aware he would be dismissed and the employer’s policy was not consistently applied.
General principles of absence management
The general principles of absence management are as follows:
- At all times the employee must be given a full opportunity to participate at each level, the employee must be given a full opportunity to present relevant medical evidence and submissions
- Ensure you consult with the employee and confirm their job is at risk if it is
- A paper trail at each step is key
Two types of Absenteeism
There are two types of absenteeism which are of concern to employers – short-term absenteeism and long-term absenteeism. Line managers must monitor absenteeism and if a pattern emerges the issue may become a disciplinary matter.
Short-term absenteeism can cause the most disruption in terms of sourcing last minute cover. In this regard, it is important for line managers to conduct return to work meetings with employees. These meetings with the employee ascertain whether they are fit to return to work, if the illness is related to work and the likelihood of the illness reoccurring. It is advisable to conduct these meetings when the employee returns to work, especially in cases where an employee has a high level of frequent short term absences or where the organisation has a culture of high levels of short term absenteeism.
Where an employee is on long-term absence, it is important for an employer to maintain contact with the employee to understand whether it is likely that they will return to work in the future. The employee on long-term absence should continue to submit sickness certificates and keep the employer updated on their likely return to work date. An employer should have a policy which allows them to refer an employee to their own Company Doctor. This independent assessment will give the employer an indication of when the employee can return to work or whether the employee will require alternative employment in the organisation.
General Worker Vs Wholesale Retailer (ADJ-00014381)
In the recent case of General Worker Vs Wholesale Retailer (ADJ-00014381), the claim of unfair dismissal failed as the company was found to have conformed to the generally accepted standard of fairness and objectivity that would normally be used in such cases. In accordance with the company’s disciplinary and attendance policy, on the 3 May 2017 the Complainant was issued with a verbal warning for five occasions of absence totalling 44 days.
The Complainant was represented by SIPTU at this meeting and chose not to appeal this warning which was to remain on his file for six months. Following this verbal warning, the employee was absent for another fourteen days in the next two months. As a result, the employee was issued with a written warning for poor attendance. In the warning letter the employee was told that unless there was satisfactory and sustained improvement in his attendance then further disciplinary action may be taken up to and including dismissal. The Complainant chose not to appeal this warning which was to remain on his file for 12 months.Following this written warning the Complainant had a further two instances of absence totalling six days, the same procedure was followed and the employee was issued a final written warning which he again chose not to appeal.
On the 12 September 2017, the company wrote to the employee following a further three days of absence where he had not made any contact to explain his absence. An investigation meeting then took place where the employee was in attendance with his SIPTU representative. In the course of this meeting, the Complainant stated that his non-attendance had been due to issues with alcohol. The Complainant was then referred to Occupational Health Services in relation to these issues. The employee attended with the Occupational Physician and the report that issued stated that the Complainant was fit to partake in internal investigations and fit to remain in work. A disciplinary hearing took place where the employee was represented by SIPTU.
The hearing resulted in the employee’s dismissal which he was given the opportunity to appeal and declined. In the instance, the complainant received three warnings prior to his dismissal, which he was given the opportunity to appeal but declined. He failed to reach a minimum standard required of him as an employee in attending his workplace and his case therefore failed. Fair disciplinary procedures were followed throughout.
More on Sickness & Absence
- Employment Implications of the Coronavirus Outbreak - Your Questions Answered
- An Employee Has Been Certified as Fit to Return to Work On Lighter Duties – How Do I Handle It?
- Data Protection Implications of Employee Medical Assessments for Employers
- A Legal Executive v A Solicitor 
- Conflicting Medical Advice – How do I handle it?
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