For employers the challenge is to manage absence in a fair and consistent way and within the confines of the law. Generally sick absence falls into two categories, either short term absence or longer term sickness. The former can be a problem when there are frequent absences and the latter can be difficult to manage if the reason for the absence is unclear. When managing both types of absence it is essential that there is a clear policy in place setting out the acceptable attendance levels and that employees are aware of this. Where employees are dismissed for poor attendance it can then be clearly demonstrated that the employee has failed to meet this standard.
As with any dismissal the employer must be able to demonstrate that the procedure followed was fair. The application of the attendance policy should be consistent and the employer should review the absence record and look at any underlying reasons for the absences. If during the investigation it is apparent that there is an ongoing medical reason for the repeated or prolonged absences then it may be appropriate to seek a medical report. If the condition could amount to a disability under the Equality Act then the employer should consider all reasonable adjustments to both the job and the work place and also consideration should be given to redeployment where appropriate. Any action taken should be with the aim of reducing the level of sick absence.
Where disciplinary action is taken for unsatisfactory attendance, the employee should be given the right to state their case and given the opportunity to improve their attendance. If there is no improvement then appropriate warnings should be given which ultimately could lead to dismissal. As with any dismissal the employee has the right to appeal and have the decision reviewed. An Employment Tribunal would look at whether dismissal was in the range of reasonable responses and whether any other options were considered or available. The size and resources of the business would be taken into account when reviewing actions in this case.