Now that businesses are able to accelerate their efforts to return to normal, or to a new normal, after over 18 months of Covid-19 pandemic related restrictions, the landscape in relation to absence management, with continued cases of Covid-19 and with the continued need for some to isolate following close contact with a confirmed case needing to be addressed and covered in the correct way by employers.
Updating absence policies to ensure that the approach taken in relation to Covid-19 related absences is set out and that it is applied equally to all will be an important step for most employers to take.
This is particularly important because absences related to Covid-19, whether because of a positive test or a need to isolate, are unavoidable for employees and should be managed carefully and without attracting disciplinary sanctions. However, other employees may start to try and use Covid-19 as an excuse for other absences to try and protect their absence record.
Therefore, having proper HR policies and procedures relating to absence will be important in allowing employers to properly manage absences whether genuine or not. For example, implementing the Bradford factor could be an option for those employers who want to more closely manage and clamp down on regular one-off absences and who want to better keep track of which absences should be ignored for the purposes of any further action.
It will continue to be important to seek advice on individual cases as each one could need a different approach, but updating your policy and procedure, or putting them in place if you don’t already have them, will provide a solid foundation for you to build from moving forward with the aim of reducing the disruption of absences for you.
In addition to absence policies and procedures, employers should also take care to consider more generally the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on their employees and the impact this could continue to have moving forward.
For example, the majority of the country moved very suddenly to working from home at the beginning of the pandemic and, for a large period of 2020, most normal freedoms were removed. This has had a detrimental impact on the mental health of a lot of people and that impact will not be resolved just by the move back to some normality alone.
With that in mind, employers may find that there is a large benefit in them looking to put in place assistance for those employees that have struggled with their mental health over the course of the 18 months of restrictions and to put in place measures to allow management and colleagues to better recognise any signs that an employee may need that help.
If mental health issues are not managed properly it can lead to excessive absenteeism moving forward which will be far harder to manage. Further, if the mental health issues worsen, there is a risk that they could be considered a disability, giving the employee further protection and weakening the employer’s position. Addressing these issues early, and properly, will hopefully lead to the avoidance of any long-term issues.
Again, having in place an absence policy that covers matters such as mental health is important. This is especially key where an employee is suffering from a longer-term mental health issue as this will need to be managed in a particular way.
Employers may also want to consider whether it will be beneficial to allow employees access to helplines and counselling where needed. For example, our clients benefit from an employee EAP line meaning employees can take free counselling advice which helps to reduce and avoid absences. Alternatives can include wellness training and mental health incident response training. Employers may find that the costs of these steps are significantly less than the cost of the disruption caused by absenteeism.
Absence management is always a difficult area. In the post Covid-19 environment where mental health issues will be more prevalent, and several different absences should go unpunished, it is more important than ever to get it right.
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