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The challenge for employers when managing absence is to do so in a fair and consistent way ensuring that actions are reasonable and meet the relevant legal requirements.
Generally there are two types of sick absence, either short term absence or longer term sickness. With short term absences it becomes a problem when there are frequent absences and the latter can be difficult to manage if the reason for the absence is unclear or there are difficulties achieving a successful return to work.
With both types of absence there should be a clear policy setting out the acceptable attendance levels and employees must be aware of what the policy is and what constitutes good attendance. When an employee is dismissed for poor attendance the employer is then able to clearly demonstrate that the employee has failed to meet the required standard.
With any dismissal the employer must be able to demonstrate that the procedure followed was fair. Application of the attendance policy should be consistent and the employer should look for any underlying reasons for the absences when reviewing the employees absence record. If during investigation it is clear that there is an ongoing medical reason for repeated or prolonged absences then it may be appropriate to request a medical report. If the condition could amount to a disability under the 2010 Equality Act then the employer should consider all reasonable adjustments to both the job and the work place and whether appropriate redeployment could be considered.
Where disciplinary meetings are arranged for unsatisfactory attendance, the employee should be given the opportunity to explain the reasons and causes of their absence and where any action is taken the aim should be to reduce the level of sick absence. If there is no improvement then appropriate warnings should be given which could ultimately lead to dismissal.
At any stage of the disciplinary process the employee has the right to appeal and have the decision reviewed. Should a case be taken to an Employment Tribunal, consideration would be given to whether dismissal was in the range of reasonable responses and whether any other options were considered or available.
Employers who seek advice on managing attendance or writing relevant policy should consult an employment law advisor.