09/02/2017 - 10:50

When do you make the call…enough is enough?

09/02/2017 - 10:50


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Managing ill and injured employees can be extremely testing, particularly when you suspect the absenteeism may not be genuine…or when it is genuine, but their absences are beginning to negatively impact on your operations!

When do you make the call…enough is enough?

Unfortunately Bob is a key team member and this will be his 8th sick day in as many months. How far you must you go to support Bob and his weekend activities?

Managing ill and injured employees can be extremely testing, particularly when you suspect the absenteeism may not be genuine…or when it is genuine, but their absences are beginning to negatively impact on your operations!

Some tips to manage the listed absenteeism situations, are outlined below.

  1. Regular sick or unpaid leave.
  2. Illness/ injury sustained outside of work which impacts core duties.
  3. Diagnosis of a permanent or long term illness.

Tip #1: Distinguish between poor performance and genuine absenteeism.

Interestingly, over 70% of absences are due to an “entitlement mentality”, i.e. taking sick leave as an entitlement as opposed to accumulating a safety net. 

If you believe constant absences are not genuine and they are unsupported by medical evidence, have the conversation, identify and address the core issues.  It is critical that this conversation is documented and, if necessary,  the process of performance management is commenced. Ultimately this will support a decision to terminate the employment should the situation call for it.

Inadequate performance, lack of interest and poor attitude are some of the reasons why an employee may be constantly absent from work. If employees are engaged, they are more likely to attend.

Tip #2: Work within the legislative boundaries.

Employers must understand and navigate through a complex web of legislation which governs what actions can be taken when managing ill/ injured employees, including but not limited to obligations under the Fair Work Act (2009), Equal Opportunity Act 1984, Disability Discrimination Act 1992 and relevant state Workers Compensation and Injury Management legislation.

Although there is no legal requirement for an employer to ‘hold a position’ or provide alternative duties for an employee who is unable perform the basic requirements of their position due to a personal illness/ injury, an assessment should be undertaken to determine what if any reasonable modifications or measures may be put in place during and post the illness/injury to support the employee in the workplace.

Most employees recover and will be performing at full capacity after a period of time. However, in some instances, regular or prolonged “temporary” absences start to have a negative effect on the team or business, prompting the question: Can I/should I terminate the employment?

Tip #3: Terminate after careful consideration.

Under the Fair Work Act (2009) a temporary absence is defined as greater than 3 months, or more than 3 months within a 12 month period and it is after this time that, in certain situations, an employer may be able to terminate the employment without further repercussions.

Outside of this situation, terminating an ill/ injured employee should be the last option.  Employers are answerable to the Fair Work Act (2009) and must be able to justify their reasons for termination accordingly:

  • Was the reason for termination valid?
  • Has procedural fairness been demonstrated?
  • Was the dismissal harsh, unjust or unreasonable?

Ultimately, it is good business to give employees a ‘fair go’ and support their return to work. Accept that the rehabilitation process will take time and focus should be on the long term benefit of retaining this employee

In summary, regular or prolonged absenteeism can be extremely disruptive to a business but consider all of the facts first.

Many employers are too cautious and allow absences to continue over a period of time before attempting to address the core issues. Reflecting on Bob’s text message, the remedy is up to Phil, (Bob’s manager).  There is no correct response without first having a discussion with Bob about observations, concerns and eliminating all assumptions.

As an employer, know your rights, have an objective and open conversation, and allow the process to take its course.  

Contact WCA- People & Culture Solutions if you require any assistance with managing your Industrial Relations and/ or general Human Resources requirements on (08) 9383 3293 or admin@wcasolutions.com


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