How to manage recurring absence due to sickness

Most managers and HR teams deal with sickness based absence on a regular basis. Recurring sickness absence is an all too common problem for many organisations. A CIPD study has the annual cost of sickness absences to UK business at almost £30 billion. 

Many absence “approvers” tend towards being lenient with absence requests. This is because they can be fearful of encouraging employees to return to work too soon. However, this can result in employees extending their sickness absences or even lead to recurring sickness absences. 

In contrast, a different set of approvers are likely to be untrusting of some sickness absences and get pushy for employees to return. This could have a negative effect on the well-being of the employee. This impact could result in further or longer absences due to sickness. 

Is there a solution?

First and foremost, there needs to be demonstrable consistency with regards to how sickness absences are treated, especially for recurring cases. There should be a comprehensive policy in place about how to handle sickness absence, both for the employee and the HR practitioner or manager who is responsible for approving requests. At the very core of this should be absence recording – if you don’t record absences, you can’t manage them. A policy should be in place regarding checking in with the absent employee to discuss the current state and to ensure there is a plan to return to work.

Use return to work interviews

Return to work interviews should be used to discuss with the absence with the employee. Some things to include in this interview would be: 

  • Has the employee’s doctor approved their return to work, and if so, have they made any recommendations for workplace support or help.
  • Any medication the employee is now taking – including any potential side effects that could affect the ability of the employee to undertake their usual work tasks. 
  • Discuss with the employee any potential help the business can offer them to aid their return.
  • Discuss any additional workplace issues regarding the employee. 

You could also include systems such as the Bradford Factor when analysing an employee’s absences.

What about recurring sickness?

If there appears to be a case of recurring sickness absence for an employee, check for patterns. On example pattern is regularly taking certain days of the week off: 

Absence Trend tool in EspressoHR
Absence Trend tool in EspressoHR

Investigate potential underlying issues and have an open and honest discussion with the employee about what is causing the recurring absence. Be prepared to offer support to the employee as appropriate. 


Espresso HR provides a complete suite of tools for absence management. Including policy documenting, absence requests and tracking, trend analysis, and more. Sign Up Now.

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