Dealing with an Employee Who is Off Sick Regularly

Dealing with an employee who is off sick regularly can be a headache for you. And comes with a high cost to your business. Sickness absence also affects other staff, who have to take on the missing employee’s work.

According to the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development CIPD’s March 2020 survey on Health and Well-Being at Work, the number of sick days taken by employees is around 5.8 days per employee per year.

This figure isn’t unreasonable, but as we know, you’ll probably have a high number of employees who take one, two or even no days off. And a few who will take a lot more than 5.8 days!


When Managers’ Become Afraid to Manage 

Short-term, frequent absence can be challenging to manage. Especially if your employee is always just within the parameters of your policy and you feel your options are limited.

In these situations, you may be apprehensive about managing firmly. It’s not pleasant to suggest or even imply to your employee that their sickness ‘isn’t genuine’ And there’s often a fear of a backlash against you through claims of bullying, harassment, victimisation or discrimination.

As a manager, you’ll know that if an employee thinks they’ve been ‘found out’, it’s instinctive to retaliate and defend themselves or to move the heat away from themselves and on to someone else.

Often by having a conversation early on, before it gets to that stage, it will be enough to nip the absences in the bud, if they’re not genuine.


Reducing Unplanned Absences

There are practical steps that you can take to minimise sickness absences and to improve staff rehabilitation.

A practical and transparent policy on Managing Sickness Absence is a must.

Other interventions that help are access to occupational health, employee assistance programmes, minimising workplace stress, flexible working options, improving employee engagement levels through career development, job satisfaction and good manager-staff relationships.

Practical management training that explains how to deal with sickness absence is also vital. Once managers feel confident in what to say to an employee who is off sick regularly, they are far more likely to manage short-term absences quickly, before they get out of hand.

I have produced a short video-based course, called ‘Employee who is Frequently Off Sick’ which explains step-by-step what to say to your employee in these situations.


Top Tips for the Management of Short-Term Frequent Absences


  1. A return to work interview is a great way to find out the reason for your employee’s absence and what you can do to help.

Most importantly, if you’re starting to notice a pattern of absence, to let them know that you have concerns regarding their level of absence and if appropriate, the path that lays ahead for them if it continues. Email Josie at for a free copy of a Return to Work Interview form you could use.

  1. Keep records of all conversations with your employees regarding their attendance. You can refer to this as evidence, later on, should you need to start a formal process.


  1. Familiarise yourself with your company’s policy and resources for dealing with absence cases. It may feel like you need a medical, legal, and HR degree to sort it all out! This is not the case; use those around you who are qualified. If you don’t have specialists in your organisation, join HR specialist Josie Hastings’ FB group where she’ll provide answers to your questions in the group.


  1. Ask probing questions to check if there are other factors at play that would be useful to know about, such as problems with child-care, personal issues, problems at work with bullying or stress.

Remember, employees may choose to keep information from you no matter how hard you try. You can only make decisions based on what you know at the time. Download my course ‘Employee who is Frequently Off Sick’ which will help you to deal with these situations.

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