How to Manage Seasonal Increases in Absenteeism

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03 Jul 2017

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However brief the summer may feel in the United Kingdom, it can often be a source of huge difficulty and disruption for employers as employees seek to take time off to enjoy the weather, provide childcare, watch sporting events, or for a multitude of other reasons.

Requests for Annual Leave

Annual leave can be a source of resentment in the office with colleagues trying to beat their fellow workers to the most desirable dates and to time off during school holidays. Therefore, it is important for companies to have a strategy in place for dealing with multiple requests. Ideally, employers should have existing written guidelines on the process of requesting and taking annual leave, which may involve limiting time off to a maximum of 2 weeks for example, and how to deal with multiple requests. If there are certain people your business that you cannot spare at the same time, you should manage their expectations in advance and ensure that they are aware of the factors that will influence their requests for leave. A policy should also detail the right of the company to refuse requests for holiday if it does not suit the needs of the business, and who has precedence in requests for the same dates (usually first come first serve). If there are disagreements among your staff, you will have to act as the final arbitrator and, while holidays will always be an emotive issue, the clearer your rules from the outset the better.

Requests for Parental Leave

With the high cost and limited choice for parents to find formal childcare during the summer holidays, employers may find themselves faced with increased requests for parental leave during this period. Eligible parents with children under the age of 18 have the legal right to take up to 18 weeks' unpaid parental leave, and may take a maximum of 4 weeks’ leave in any year in relation to each eligible child. To qualify for parental leave, an employee must have at least one year of continuous service with his or her employer. Absences due to parental leave can cause difficulties for employers and it is possible that an employee’s request of leave can be postponed for up to 6 months, if the employee’s absence from work would cause substantial disruption or harm to the employer’s business. If an employer intends to postpone a request for parental leave then they must give written notice within 7 days to the employee stating the reason for the postponement and specifying alternative dates that the employee may take. However, it is important to note that employers cannot postpone parental leave if notice has been given that it is to commence on the placement of a child being adopted, or as soon as the child is born.

Last Minute Absences

While requests for annual or parental leave provide an employer with advanced notification of the employee’s absence, another common problem that employers face is last minute absences. This may be as a result of multiple different reasons and so it is imperative that an employer fully establishes the facts of any absence to enable them to determine whether or not they are able to authorise the absence. An employee has the legal right to reasonable “time off for dependants”, which may occur, for example, if their child-minding arrangements breakdown to enable them to deal with an emergency. Subject to company policy, this period would be unpaid and should be limited to time to put alternative arrangements in place. In addition, while there may not be a Football World Cup or European Championships this summer, there are a number of reasons that a more unscrupulous employee may elect not to attend work. While many absences may be genuine, it is understandable that employers may be sceptical of absences that fall on a large sporting occasion, on a day where leave has previously been declined, or because the weather looks set to be particularly nice. It is important that an employer doesn’t jump to conclusions, but instead it would be beneficial to have a rigorous return to work process. You should conduct a return to work meeting following every absence to give you the opportunity to explore the reason for employees’ absences and help you determine whether or not you believe that they were reasonable in the circumstances. You should fully explore the facts with the employee and consider whether or not there are any inconsistencies in their story. This will enable you to form a paper trail and should you have a reasonable belief that the absence was not genuine and as such unauthorised, the next step would be to take disciplinary action to deal with the matter. For any further advice concerning absence management, please contact us.

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