types of absenteeism and how to deal with them

The three strands to absenteeism include authorized and planned for absence (e.g. holidays); unplanned, but genuine absence (e.g. sickness); and unauthorised or suspect absence, which includes lateness.

persistent genuine absence

In the case of persistent unplanned but genuine absence, a meeting should be held with the employee to discover the reason behind the absences. Examples may include looking after an elderly relative, or dropping off children at school. In these circumstances, it may be beneficial to agree to flexible working arrangements to reduce absenteeism. Employers must keep in mind that employees may be reluctant to divulge their circumstances for fear of discrimination, and any meetings should be stated and framed with the intention to help.

suspect absences

Details about how to deal with suspect absences should be stated in the company disciplinary policy. It’s important to make sure all supporting evidence is collected before holding a meeting with the employee. Again, the meeting is a chance for the employee to discuss any issues with the employer, with a view to resolving the issue and reducing the number of suspected absences. 

Trends with employee absences such as days off around public holidays, persistent lateness or consistently taking Mondays and Fridays off without notice can be addressed with a warning. If the behaviour persists, then disciplinary action is the next stage. 

In some cases, introducing flexible working provisions, such as allowing the employee to start and finish earlier or later, or a more flexible holiday booking system, may address the issue. But, if you introduce flexible working, make sure managers are on board and are comfortable working with these provisions, otherwise you can find yourself with a clash between the organisation’s policy and managers’ needs.

long-term absence

If an employee is absent from work for a prolonged period of time due to illness or injury, they may be hesitant about returning to work. Employers with a ‘return to work’ policy can follow procedures to gradually reintroduce the employee to the workplace and their duties over a period of time. 

returning to work after a work-related injury

Employers are expected to make ‘reasonable adjustments’ to accommodate an employee returning to work after an illness or injury. It is against the law to discriminate against an employee because of an injury and such accommodation should not cause the company unnecessary hardship. Having a return to work policy allows both the employer and employee to discuss options and agree on the best course of action for both parties. 

Evidence has shown that returning to work can aid recovery, whereas not returning to work can lead to long-term absence and job loss with the risk of isolation, loss of confidence, mental health issues, de-skilling and social exclusion. 

An appropriate doctor, psychologist or occupational therapist will be able to suggest ways of helping an employee get back to work, depending on the illness or injury. This may mean discussing:

  • a phased return to work
  • altered hours
  • amended duties
  • workplace adaptations.

It also advised to seek legal advice when introducing changes to accommodate a returning employee to ensure the employer is meeting their obligations under the law.

vocational rehabilitation services

It’s not just the worker who feels the effect of an injury – many employers suffer decreased productivity and company performance through lost time. Most organisations need help managing their rehabilitation programs and to assist employees’ faster return to work. This assistance is provided through a vocational rehabilitation service with accredited organisations such as Randstad.

Randstad is one of the largest contract providers of vocational rehabilitation services with WorkCover SA. The primary focus is to help workers return to pre-injury employment and benefit from rehabilitation opportunities, support networks, social contact, responsibility, familiarity and routine.

Vocational rehabilitation solutions can be tailored to your unique workplace environment and business needs, and may include:

  • injury management, rehabilitation and return-to-work
  • job search programs
  • workplace counselling programs
  • vocational rehabilitation programs for self-insured employers.

It’s a good idea to ensure the service provider is independently audited, as then you can rest assured your program is measurable against – and meets – the standards set by WorkCover, while delivering your business needs and objectives.

more articles about: what to do if things go wrong