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More About the Role of the Supervisor in Managing Absenteeism

Recommended Disciplinary Procedures


Stage 1: Counseling Interview

  • The immediate supervisor should advise the employee of his concern over the absences, try to establish the reasons for the sickness and determine what needs to be done to improve attendance.
  • If any medical condition is identified at this stage, and is likely to have an effect on job suitability, the supervisor should arrange an appointment with a company-approved doctor. This should be confirmed to the employee in writing within five working days.
  • If, from the discussion, the problem does not appear to be due to an underlying unfitness for work, the supervisor should advise the employee that, while the recorded ailments may be genuine, a sustained improvement in attendance is expected or the next stage in the procedure will be taken.
  • A review of the attendance will automatically be made each month for the next six months.

Stage 2: First Formal Review (Verbal Warning Stage)

  • If the employee’s absences continue to worsen following analysis and regular monitoring, he should be invited to attend a formal review meeting with the supervisor.
  • The absence record should be detailed in a letter inviting the employee for this interview. The employee should be advised that she is entitled to be represented by a union representative or a colleague as appropriate.
  • The purpose of this meeting will be to:
    --continue to discuss the underlying reasons for the absences,
    --advise the employee of the service and cost implications of her absence, and
    --warn the employee (except when deciding to seek medical advice) that if there is not a substantial and sustained improvement, her employment may be terminated because of her inability to maintain an acceptable attendance level. This constitutes the verbal warning.
  • Where medical attention is warranted, action must be taken immediately. The meeting is therefore only adjourned to allow this part of the process to be completed. Within five working days, the employee must receive medical advice. The meeting is then reconvened with HR and the doctor’s opinion is discussed.
  • If the doctor confirms fitness for work, the employee should be warned about the consequences of continued absence.

Stage 3: Second Formal Review (Written Warning Stage)

  • Where regular monitoring indicates that no improvement in the absence pattern has occurred, a second formal meeting will be arranged with HR.
  • The letter inviting the employee to the meeting will include the absence record and, again, advice on representation.
  • Any new information given at the meeting regarding ill health or a change in the nature of sickness may need to be assessed by a company-approved doctor.
  • The employee should be given the opportunity to explain his or her absence record. If appropriate, the supervisor should inform the employee that a formal written warning is being issued and that this warning will remain in the employee’s file for a specified period. A copy of the warning should be issued to the employee and to his/her representative.
  • The employee should be informed that failure to comply with the company’s attendance expectations, and to improve on the present unacceptable record of absence, will result in the termination of the employee’s employment.
  • Where fitness for work is in doubt, proceed with redeployment options according to the guidance received by the doctor. Consult with the employee’s union representative (if applicable) on the redeployment process and options.

Stage 4: Temporary Suspension From Work

  • If, following the implementation of the previous stages of the disciplinary process, no improvement in attendance occurs, management may proceed with a temporary suspension without pay. The intention to suspend should be confirmed in writing with details of start and end dates. A copy of the letter of suspension should be sent to the employee’s representative (if applicable).

Stage 5: Termination of Employment

  • This is the final stage in the disciplinary process whereby the employee is dismissed for inability to comply with the company’s requirements for attendance at work. Dismissal can only take place with the written authorization of a senior manager and HR.
  • The letter calling the employee in will, again, include advice on representation and will outline the absence record. The employee should be advised that, as a result of the interview, he or she may be dismissed for incapability to perform work duties.
  • Again, the company doctor may have to be consulted if any new information is forthcoming in regard to the employee’s health or capacity for work.
  • Where redeployment is not possible, or appropriate, consider proceeding with dismissal for reasons of capability. Eligibility for disability benefit will depend on the circumstances of each case.
  • If a decision is made to dismiss on the basis of capability, a copy of the letter of dismissal should be sent to the employee’s representative (if appropriate).
  • The employee may have the right to appeal against dismissal. The appeal should be in line with the company’s disciplinary procedures.

Challenges in Managing Absenteeism

Be aware that supervisors are often uncomfortable or unwilling to report on those who have exceeded acceptable levels of absenteeism. Because of the many pressures already on supervisors, the consistent implementation of absenteeism policies is not always their top priority.

It is important to try to take the subjectivity out of managing absenteeism and to ensure that all employees are treated the same. It is essential to be consistent, persistent, and fair to all. When absence is not addressed or addressed in an inconsistent manner, lower morale can result. Employees can feel they have been treated unfairly when they perceive other absent employees are “getting away with it.”

The majority of employees will appreciate policies and programs that are facilitative, rather than punitive. Stringent or punitive measures that force employees to come to work can result in employees that then become, "absent while at work."

They do as little as possible and resist any effort to get them to do more. Other programs should be implemented that help employees be present at work, such as flexible work scheduling, job sharing, attendance awards and wellness programs.

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