February 2022 – Absence Management & New Statutory Rates
Employment Update for Small Businesses
We have seen a big rise in absence issues recently. In part, this is linked to employees being required to return to working in the workplace after lengthy periods of home working due to the pandemic. A lot of employees are struggling to readjust. So this month we consider how best to manage absence in the workplace. We also report on new statutory rates that will apply from April.
Please contact me if you would like to find out a bit more about any of the subjects raised in this update or if you need any help or advice.
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There are a number of reasons for employees to be off work, and it is important to accurately record the reasons given at the time of absence so as to assist us in dealing with any problems, such as excessive absence. Reasons can include sickness, holiday, time off for dependants (e.g. to care for a sick child), compassionate leave, jury service, bad weather, etc. (This can be achieved very easily if you use breatheHR).
If an employee has a high level of absence, this can be addressed, but it is important to follow the right sort of procedure depending on the type of absence. In particular you should not include periods of time off for dependants in the sickness absence records. Time off for dependants is a statutory entitlement, which means it would be automatically unfair to dismiss an employee for taking it (even if they have short service). Sickness absence, on the other hand, is not a statutory entitlement, and dismissal for excessive sick leave can be fair (on the grounds of capability).
However, it is always important to follow a reasonable procedure before dismissing an employee. In the case of sickness absence, it is often the case that attendance will improve when the employer starts to follow absence management procedures. If an employee knows that they will face consequences for taking too much time off, they may well think again before calling in sick when they are feeling slightly under the weather.
You also need to consider how to account for absence that is attributable to COVID. If someone is unwell with COVID or because of a reaction to the vaccine, then that is normal sickness absence and can be treated as such in your record-keeping. However, you may wish to treat time off due to a bad vaccine reaction a little differently if you wish to encourage staff to be vaccinated, and maybe not count that towards any trigger (see below). Time off for self-isolation (e.g. where a family member has COVID) is not sickness absence, so could be treated differently. However, with the change in rules, this will normally now only apply to anyone who has not been vaccinated, and you may wish to include it in the statistics in those circumstances.
Keeping Track of Absence
If you record absence accurately, you need to ensure you can also report on absence levels so as to spot any problems in good time. Depending on how many employees you have, it may be appropriate to run a monthly or quarterly report, but to ensure that the period you are looking at covers the preceding 12 months. (Again, breatheHR makes this easy)
Your sickness procedure may stipulate certain absence triggers that result in action being taken (often the triggers are 3 separate periods of absence or 8 working days in a 12 month period). If you don’t have such a procedure, then we suggest you take the trigger above as your rule of thumb (3 periods or 8 working days).
If you carry out return to work interviews after each period of sickness absence, you may check the individual’s absence record at that point instead of, or as well as, running regular reports. If you check that before meeting the employee, you can address any concerns at the interview.
Managing High Sickness Absence
The first time an employee hits the absence trigger, we would advise you meet with them and discuss the periods of absence they have taken and the reasons for absence. It may be that there is some underlying cause, such as a health condition, behind the various periods of absence. If that is the case, you should discuss that with the employee to find out more information, including whether or not they are receiving any treatment for the condition and if it may result in further periods of absence. It may be appropriate to seek their consent to obtain a medical report in order to find out what the medical opinion is on the condition and how it may impact on work and attendance. If the condition amounts to a disability, then you have a duty to make reasonable adjustments in order to try to ensure they can carry on working without detriment. In some cases, that is not possible and you may be able to fairly terminate their employment on capability grounds (but please contact us for advice at an early stage to make sure that is carried out fairly).
If there is no apparent underlying cause to the high absence levels, you should warn the employee that a formal absence management procedure may commence if their attendance does not improve (and confirm that in writing). You could reset the triggers at that point and continue to monitor their attendance. If they do then meet the trigger again, you could start formal proceedings. This follows a similar approach to a disciplinary procedure, with a written warning, final written warning and a dismissal stage, but the tone is clearly very different, as it is related to capability and not misconduct.
It is not always appropriate to have a detailed sickness absence procedure with triggers set out, particularly for a very small employer. But if you are finding absence becoming more of an issue, then you may want to consider reviewing your current policy and procedure. It may be time to consider introducing a tighter procedure that will help manage staff expectations and to help you follow through with absence problems. Please speak to us if you would like to look into this further.
Increase in Statutory Rates
From 6th April 2022 the following rates will apply:
Statutory Sick Pay – £99.35 (currently £96.35)
The Lower Earnings Limit – £123.00 (currently £120.00)
From 3rd April 2022 the following rates all increase from £151.97 to £156.66 per week:
Statutory Maternity Pay (SMP)*
Statutory Paternity Pay (SPP)
Statutory Adoption Pay (SAP)*
Statutory Shared Parental Pay (SShPP)*
Statutory Parental Bereavement Pay (SPBP)
(* for the first 6 weeks SMP and SAP are 90% of normal pay)
National Minimum and Living Wage
From 1st April 2022, the minimum wage bands are increasing:
to £9.50 per hour (from £8.91) for workers aged 23 and over (+ 6.6%)
to £9.18 per hour (from £8.36) for workers aged 21 to 22 (+ 9.8%)
to £6.83 per hour (from £6.56) for workers aged 18 to 20 (+ 4.1%)
to £4.81 per hour (from £4.62) for workers aged 16 and 17 (+ 4.1%)
to £4.81 per hour (from £4.30) for apprentices under 19 and those over 19 in their first year* (+ 11.9%)
*N.B. Apprentices over 19 and who have completed at least one year are entitled to the appropriate rate for their age.