Attendance Management

by Kate Russell

Keeping records

You must have a system for recording absence, or it will be impossible to measure specific types, such as long-term sickness absence, and to notice when trigger points have been reached. Without the information to indicate the scale of the problem, you will be unable to manage the situation effectively.

Before absence can be tackled, your organisation has to record what’s happening in a systematic way. The information needs to be accurately recorded and monitored. It’s only then that absence can be managed.

Staff need to know the correct reporting procedures, what documentation they’re expected to complete and what information they should submit.

Some companies create and publish league tables to compare absence data emerging from different departments or sites. These can prove a useful reminder to managers and provide information which can be used in review meetings.

Employers are required to keep records of SSP for the HMRC (see Introduction to SSP).

One of the chief advantages of objective measurement and analysis of absence is the correction or confirmation of subjective views. Just because a few employees have unacceptable absence levels or there are one or two long-term cases of sickness in key positions, this should not be understood to suggest that there is a major overall problem where only a limited one exists. On the other hand, the data may highlight a widespread problem in need of extensive remedial action.

The questions to be posed are

  • Is there really a problem?
  • Which sections or shifts are affected?
  • Are particular groups affected, such as one sex or ethnic minority?
  • Does the problem extend throughout the whole organisation or is it confined to one or two departments or functions?
  • How many employees are involved – only a few or a large number, indicating a general problem?
  • What type of absence is involved – mainly certificated absences or many cases of one-day absences or lateness?

Methods of measuring absence

Organisations define and measure absence in a number of different ways, including and excluding various types of absence. Many employers use the Bradford Factor to track absence and identify problems. But it isn’t the only way of measuring absence. In fact, a range of alternatives to Bradford Factor scoring exist, each with their own advantages and disadvantages.

The ‘Lost Time’ rate

One of the alternatives to Bradford Factor scoring, is the ‘Lost Time’ rate. This quite simply measures how much time you have lost to absence, as a figure compared to the maximum possible time employees would have worked for.

The Lost Time rate = (Hours Lost) divided by (Potential Hours)

You can do this calculation using as many people as you like, over whatever period you like. For example, if you wanted to calculate the ‘Lost Time’ rate for a sales team of 10 people, over the course of a week. If the maximum number of hours per sales person per week was 40, you would have a Potential Hours figure of 400 (as there are 10 people). If one person had been off sick for a total of two days during that week, then your Hours Lost figure would be 16.

16 divided by 400 is 0.04 – or, 4 percent.

The ‘Frequency’ rate

The ‘Frequency’ rate is another of the main alternatives to Bradford Factor. In contrast to the ‘Lost Time’ rate, it ignores the total time lost, and instead calculates how many individual spells of absence are occurring in your organisation.

One reason why some employers choose this method for measuring absence, is because a high frequency of absences – even if they are short spells – can be more difficult to manage and plan for.

The ‘Frequency’ rate = (Absence Spells) divided by (Total Employees).

So, if we used the same example as before, and calculated the ‘Frequency’ rate for a team of 10 sales people, where one person had taken two days off sick, then assuming the two days were consecutive, we would have an Absence Spells figure of 1. As there are 10 people in the team, we would have a Total Employees figure of 10.

1 divided by 10 is 0.1 – or, 10 percent.

Be careful when calculating ‘Frequency’ rate, and don’t try comparing the full year against one particular week or month. This is because the longer the period, the more Absence Spells you’ll be calculating – but without the number of employees necessarily changing. For example, you would score 10 percent for a one week period, but 20 percent for a two week period, even though the individual weeks themselves were exactly the same.

It isn’t abnormal to get what seems like a very high percentage over longer periods. Due to the nature of the calculation, it’s even possible to calculate a score of more than 100 percent.

Bradford Factor

Bradford Factor uses both total time lost, and frequency of absence, to calculate a score that can indicate how disruptive specific employee absence patterns are for your organisation. It places a greater weighting on the frequency, and is best used for scoring individual employees.

Be careful not to make instant judgements based on a high Bradford Factor score. It should be used only as an indication that you might want to check a particular employee’s situation, as there could be underlying reasons as to why an employee is having a high absence frequency (such as a disability).

The Bradford Factor calculation = (Absence Spells) multiplied by (Absence Spells) multiplied by (Days Lost)

Patterns of absence

Although each individual absence is different, general patterns often emerge. These vary because they are influenced by a variety of factors, such as management style, traditions of behaviour and working conditions. Research has identified, however, that these patterns often display a number of common features, listed below.

  • Young people tend to have more frequent, shorter periods of sickness than older people.
  • The most likely periods for absence are Mondays, Fridays, before or after a bank holiday, and late shifts.
  • Manual employees generally have higher levels of absence than office employees.
  • Unauthorised absence is more common among new starters; longer serving employees get to know the organisation’s standards and stay within the framework.
  • Absences can sometimes relate to annual events: for example, school holidays, public holidays or major sporting occasions.
  • Sick leave due to industrial accidents is also greater for new or inexperienced employees.
  • Absence tends to increase where there are high levels of overtime or frequently rotating shift patterns.
  • Absence is likely to be greater in larger companies.

Personal data

All processing of health information must meet the GDPR requirements for special category data.

To collect or use employees’ health information you must first show a legal basis. Examples are:

  • Legal obligations e.g. ensuring a fair dismissal or paying SSP;
  • Contract compliance e.g. provision of contractual pay and benefits; or
  • Legitimate interest provided this is not overridden by the rights and freedoms of employees and candidates as data subjects.

This will enable you to use health information to follow a fair absence management procedure, to ensure a fair dismissal, avoid disability discrimination, make reasonable adjustments, pay statutory sick pay, comply with health and safety obligations and the duty of care.

Employers must:

  • Not use information for secondary purposes unless it is clearly lawful;
  • Ensure they have adequate information on which to make a judgement or decision;
  • Ensure they collect no more information than is needed;
  • Ensure accuracy including giving employees the chance to challenge accuracy;
  • Not keep medical reports or absence management procedure records for longer than necessary;
  • Keep information secure – restricting access, being careful how it is transferred (e.g. not scanning and emailing fit notes with no password or printing to open printers), sharing on a true need to know basis, being particularly careful when travelling or remote working.
  • Ensure adequate safeguards (such as EC approved model contract clauses) are in place for international transfers (including where information is stored on systems hosted out of the EU);
  • Ensure agreements are in place with providers who receive health information from the employer which meet GDPR requirements for processor agreements or, for providers who are controllers, have adequate safeguards generally;
  • Ensure relevant security breaches (including disclosure to the wrong recipients etc.) are reported to the ICO;
  • Reduce the recording, use and sharing of health information.