Short-Term Absence Management Overview

Short-Term Absence Management Overview

Generally, sickness absence refers to a period where an employee is absent from work by reason of incapacity. This normally means that a person is not fit, as a result of illness or injury, to perform their normal duties. 

Most employees will, at some point or other during the year, spend some time off work because of sickness, and this is to be expected. However, occasionally, employees will have several periods of absence across a short period of time so that they become excessive or will have one longer period of absence.

This article will focus on those circumstances where an employee has regular and persistent short-term absences, perhaps lasting a day or two at a time on each occasion. 

Where this is the case, there are several considerations for an employer, including what payments, if any, should be made to the employee, the reasons for the absences, whether there are workplace factors involved, whether a period of annual leave coincides with the absence, and whether there is a relevant disability.

Right to Sick Leave

As a starting point, all employees have a right to time off work where they are unfit to attend. This is a right that is given from day one of employment. An employee is entitled, provided they follow any relevant absence reporting procedures, including providing medical evidence to support an absence where necessary, to take as much time off work as is necessary to recover.

Right to Sick Pay

Employees have a statutory right to be paid at least statutory sick pay during any period of absence. There are several requirements for this entitlement and a number of criteria for how it is paid. Please contact Wilford Smith if you would like further details and one of our trusted advisers will be able to assist. 

When an Employee is Off Sick

There are several things that an employer should do if an employee is off sick. Some of these requirements are more important or necessary where there is a long absence, but the general principles remain the same. 

Employers should keep in contact with the employee generally, whether in relation to aspects of their role on which only they can assist or to send invites for relevant company events. This contact can also ask for updates on their illness, possible return dates and the progress of any treatment they are receiving. 

Employers should also ask, particularly in situations where the employee has an ongoing health issue, for the employee to provide updates if they receive any update on their condition, for example from their doctor. This could be when a full diagnosis is received when a new treatment is prescribed, or where an update on when the employee might be fit for work is provided.

Employers should ensure that a paper trail is kept. In other words, every time an action is taken in relation to that employee and their absence, it is recorded. In some cases, this will be easy as there may be written communication, however, it is also important, for example where a phone call takes place, to ensure that a note is made afterwards.

Employers should also look out for conduct by the employee that may suggest the absence is not genuine. This can include working elsewhere, going on holiday abroad during an absence, or taking part in leisure activities. 

It is also important to keep track of any pay or benefits that should either continue to be paid or stop during a period of sickness absence. 

Return to Work

Employers should consider the correct approach to take when an employee returns to work. Normally, if there has only been an absence of one day, a formal return to work process will not be necessary. However, where the absence has been longer, or the employee has had excessive absence, a return-to-work process, or meeting, could be very helpful. 

In particular, where an employee has excessive absence, a return to work process in which the employer makes it clear that absences are being monitored and sets out possible future consequences can act as a significant disincentive moving forward. 

Employers should have regard to their own policies and procedures when making a decision on the approach to take, as well as the specific circumstances of each case. As above, a paper trail is necessary here too. 

Protected Absences and Absences That Should be Disregarded

It is important as an employer to ensure that the approach to absences is fair, reasonable, and proportionate. This will include making sure that absences that should not be punished are not taken into account. 

Some absences will be automatically protected by the law, such as absences for pregnancy-related reasons, or absences related to a disability. Others may need to be disregarded, for example where an employee takes time off for stress-related reasons and the cause of the stress is the fault of the employer. 

There are various other reasons for absences, and it will often be at the employer's discretion, or dependent on any policy in place, as to whether action is taken against certain sickness absences.  

Dealing With Absence Problems

Normally, most absences can be dealt with informally. However, there are occasions where absences become persistent and excessive and where formal action becomes necessary. 

Some employers will have a policy in place which tracks absences and sets trigger points and thresholds for excessive absences. These policies will also generally dictate the type of action that should be taken and when and following those policies and staying on top of absences is important. 

Where employers don’t have those policies in place, several of the considerations set out above become important. For example, keeping a paper trail is essential. Employers should make sure that absences are dealt with fairly across the board and that action is taken in largely the same circumstances from employee to employee. This is where having trigger points and thresholds are helpful. 

Employers should always ensure that they have as much information about the reasons for the absences before considering any formal action in response. It is important to establish the reasons for the absences, with a focus on trying to establish any links or underlying medical issues and considering whether any absences should be disregarded. 

The key thing for employers is to have a set process for dealing with excessive absences and to stick to that process across the board. Letting absences slide, or not taking action when triggers or thresholds are hit will give employees more licence to take further time off moving forward.

Please see Absence Management Post-Covid-19 for further info.


Short-term absence is the most disruptive for businesses, particularly when it becomes excessive. It appears, on the face of it, to be difficult to address but the reality is that with proper management it can become far easier. 

It also assists to have experts on your side to advise you. We would highly recommend having Trusted Advisers in your corner to help you. Wilford Smith’s business-focused services specialise in Employment Law, Commercial Law, Company Law, Commercial Conveyancing, Regulatory and Criminal Investigations. 

We can be your Trusted Adviser in all areas.


Latest News Posts

Most, if not all, businesses will at some point find themselves presented with a grievance by an employee. It is […]

Sometimes businesses face an unexpected disruption or temporary downturn in work.  Whilst no-one wants this to happen it is often […]

It is inevitable that every business from time-to-time will be required to undertake a disciplinary procedure.  Whilst most staff are […]

Sign up for our monthly newsletters for the latest news & articles
At Wilford Smith we are invested in your success. Our team will get to know you, your family, your business, and your market sector. To us, you and needs are unique. You can be confident that by instructing us, we will take care of all your legal matters throughout your lifetime, providing creative solutions and protecting your best interests.



  • Meadowhall Business Park
  • S9 2EQ
  • Tel: 0808 164 4106
  • Fax: 0844 225 0572


  • Smithy House 22 Westgate,
  • Rotherham S60 1AP
  • Tel: 0808 164 4106
  • Fax: 0844 225 0572


  • 20 Old Bailey
  • LondonEC4M 7AN
  • By appointment only
Copyright ©2024 Wilford Smith, All rights reserved.
2024 Wilford Smith is the trading name of WS Strategic Ltd. a limited company registered in England and Wales, registration number 07777022. Registered office – Meadowhall Business Park, Sheffield S9 2EQ. We are authorised and regulated by the Solicitors Regulation Authority. SRA Registration Number 640898.