If you’ve been in management for any period of time, you have no doubt had experience with employees who needed time off just a little too often – or too regularly – to be credible. That said, many managers are wary of disputing the authenticity of absences, particularly where there is no solid evidence to suggest employees are being dishonest.
Nobody wants to question whether a loved one really has passed away, or ask for evidence of a 24-hour stomach bug. However, patterns of frequent short-term absence are costly to the business in many ways, not least in the negative effect that they have on colleagues who have to manage the disruption and extra work.
Fortunately, there are measures that businesses can take to help manage non-genuine absence. With the right processes, tools, training and policies in place, managers should have the confidence to question suspicious absences without worrying about negative repercussions.
Setting the right foundations
Companies should have a policy that covers all aspects of unplanned absence, including sickness absence, compassionate leave, parental leave and bereavement. All employees must be made aware of the policy and process they are expected to adhere to. These policies should detail what the company considers reasonable and what is expected of the employee in relation to the absence.
To avoid unfair treatment, the employer must have a robust process, supported by a quality absence management system to ensure that patterns of absence are not missed and that managers are always consistent in following the set process.
The systems should record and analyse staff absences. Real-time notifications make it easier to react to the absence and provide cover if needed, while in-depth reporting allows you to monitor absences over time and a good system will flag any patterns and guide the manager through the required process.
Another important step is undertaking a timely return to work interview with the absent worker. Having absence discussions can be challenging for managers. Developing manager capability to understand how to handle discussions, and identifying strategies to improve attendance is critical. Training will support manager engagement and improve the outcomes of discussions.
Warning signs of non-genuine absence
Sometimes it might be pretty obvious to you that an employee is being dishonest. But some people are better at covering their tracks than others, so here are some things to look out for:
Regular patterns of absence
You might imagine that sick days peak on Mondays and Fridays as employees endeavour to extend (or recover from) their weekends. However, the data from clients who use the AbsenceTrack system, shows that it is Mondays and Tuesday that are the most frequent days.
Absence during certain events
“Sickness” can often coincide with major sporting events, big projects at work, or even meetings and events that a member of staff didn’t want to attend.
Absence when annual leave was denied
If an employee put in a request for annual leave which was denied, you’re right to be suspicious when they mysteriously fall ill at that exact same time.
Social media/photographic evidence
What if an employee claims to be bedridden, attending a funeral, or caring for a sick child, but their social media profile suggests otherwise? This is pretty clear evidence of dishonesty, and grounds for discipline or even dismissal.
What to do if you become suspicious
However solid the evidence may seem, it’s best not to jump to conclusions. Instead, follow your company guidelines for conducting an investigation.
This often begins with an informal interview, where you can probe the employee about the reason for their absence patterns and highlight any trends you have noticed. If they have been off frequently, just knowing that they are under observation may be enough of a deterrent to correct their behaviour – particularly if you can show them the evidence taken from your absence management system.
You may find that there is an underlying cause for non-genuine absence, which the employee needs support with. For example, if they are experiencing problems with childcare, you might be able to offer more flexible working hours.
Direct Health Solutions are the leaders in positive absence management and support over 300 organisations across Australia and New Zealand. Through our 24×7 nurse-led absence management service, and our industry leading leave management software, AbsenceTrack, we have implemented industry recognised best practices and achieved a 25-40% reduction in absenteeism for our customers.
Contact us today to see how we can help your business.