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Practice calendar: November

This month, as the days draw in our expert gives advice about dealing with ‘duvet days'. How can you broach the issue of frequent sick days with an employee?

The problem

The long days of summer are long gone and the dark nights and bad weather are drawing in, so this is the time of year when employees might be most tempted to take a ‘duvet day' - or a day of unauthorised absence.

The Confederation of British Industry claim that around 15% of sick days taken each year are not genuine – that's a staggering 37 million days lost, which cost businesses £2.5 billion a year.

If you have a noticed an employee has a pattern emerging of taking odd days off it should not be ignored – but what is the best way to deal with it?

Expert advice

This problem needs to be addressed, even if this means having a difficult conversation with them.

Practical steps that can be taken are conducting return-to-work interviews, referring frequent absentees to occupational health if you believe there are underlying health issues, and disciplining staff with bad attendance records.

The return to work interview should be a short confidential conversation that covers the reasons for absence, what steps they took to get help, any underlying health issues and a general conversation about how they are feeling.

This can help deter employees from calling in sick if they know that they have to have a conversation with their manager on return from an absence.

If the informal route becomes exhausted then it may be that disciplinary procedures are commenced, as taking frequent, unauthorised one-off days is classed as a form of misconduct. The disciplinary route may ultimately lead to an employee's dismissal if attendance does not improve over time after repeated warnings.

If it looks like an issue is emerging regarding frequent absence, keep and review the absence patterns, advise the employee that you are concerned about their attendance levels, that improvement is expected and explain the consequences if this is not achieved.

Liz Symon is an employment law adviser with the Medical and Dental Defence Union of Scotland

Practice calendar: November