Managing festive absences

phone in sick

As we approach the festive season and 2017 draws towards a close, the question of holidays, seasonal illness and increased absence rates once again rears its head.

As we saw recently with Ryanair, failure to properly schedule employee holidays and manage absences can cause chaos and put extra demands on your business. ELAS employment law consultant Daxa Shah explains how best to manage staffing issues at this time of year:

“The festive period is one of the busiest times of year for most businesses and it’s important to manage staffing properly in order to avoid problems. As the weather gets colder and workloads increase, employees can find themselves feeling stressed, low on energy and run down, making them more susceptible to seasonal ailments such as cough, cold and flu.

“Scheduling staff at this time of year can be a logistical nightmare due to unplanned illness and the increased number of employees asking for time off to go away with the family, or simply use up their allocated holiday time before it runs out.

“When it comes to Christmas bank holidays and annual leave, these should be factored in at the start of the year. Employees’ rights to paid annual leave on public holidays should be clearly stated in the terms of the employment contracts and are, generally, counted as part of statutory annual leave allotment. Your annual leave policy will give guidance for booking time off. You may want to be a bit more flexible when allowing annual leave during this period, however, as it is the busiest time of the year it’s important to come to an agreement and plan as early as possible in order to avoid any surprises.

“As we get closer to Christmas, it’s important that you let your employees know in plenty of time whether or not their annual leave has been granted or if they will be expected to work. Schedules should be made in advance if possible so that both you and they can make plans.

Christmas is a prime time for workplace absences and the temptation to pull a sickie can be high. Usual sickness policies apply during this time and should be implemented fairly and consistently for all employees. Attendance should be monitored carefully and any unauthorised or high levels of sickness or late attendance should be dealt with as per your usual policies, which could result in disciplinary action.

“Don’t forget to make sure employees are aware that any unauthorised absence the day after the work Christmas party will raise a red flag. There is no legal right to take paid leave, it all depends on the terms of a worker’s contract and they should know that there may be suspicion pertaining to absences the day after a party. You should let employees know that if they are off sick and not able to produce medical evidence of any sickness, then disciplinary action may be taken.

“It’s a good idea to keep tabs on your employees’ wellbeing generally throughout the year in terms of managing their workloads and pressures of the job. This will allow you to identify any repeated absences that accumulate, allowing you to find out the reasons behind any absences and put measures in place to address them via informal meetings and welfare meetings, where employees are encouraged to be open and honest. Ensure that all your staff are offered the flu vaccine, especially if they work in sectors that involve close contact with children, the elderly or the vulnerable. You should also be aware of presenteeism – sometimes it is better to allow employees to be off for a prescribed amount of time rather than spreading a sickness bug around the workplace and putting further strain on the remaining employees.”