Fixer: Manager’s sickness is cause for concern

But everyone in the business seems reluctant to tackle the problem

I joined a new company a couple of months ago as an HR manager. Everything is going well, except that I’ve recently discovered one of the organisation’s senior managers is off sick frequently, usually for several days a month. The Bradford Factor score for their absence is more than 900, indicating that it’s sufficient grounds for dismissal, yet the issue hasn’t been addressed by either my HR predecessor or the individual’s line manager. As someone new to the company and also factoring in this person’s seniority, how can I tackle the problem?

It isn’t easy coming into a new business and changing practice. The first thing we’d suggest is a bit of research. Can you see from company files you’ve been left whether the policy has ever been implemented? If so, are you proposing a course of action that is in line with previous practice?

If the answer is ‘yes’ and the policy has been implemented consistently before, speak to the manager and explore why they have not taken any action. During that conversation, find out the reason for the absence and what support the business has given the employee. Also check what communication has happened with the individual to date; it could be that the absence was disability related and the line manager felt unskilled to deal with the issue. They may need coaching on how to deal with difficult conversations.

If the policy hasn’t been followed previously, try to work out why not. It could be that the policy had never really been bought into by the business. In that case you’ll need to ascertain whether it’s still fit for purpose; having a policy that isn’t used is worse than having no policy at all.

Depending on the answers you get, you may want to consult with the business and revise the policy. Then you should ensure it is communicated before considering taking any formal action against anyone. Finally, make sure the agreed policy is implemented consistently so this doesn’t happen again.

Husband and wife team Rob and Nicci Birley have run their own full service HR consultancy, Cornerstone Resources, since late 2017, partnering with small businesses and charities throughout the UK. Prior to this, they both spent more than 20 years each working in a range of specialist and generalist HR roles across a range of sectors.

Nicci specialises in management coaching, mentoring, recruitment, change management and improving organisational performance. Rob specialises in complex employee issues and salaries, pensions and benefits.

Their replies are written in a personal capacity and do not reflect the views of People Management or the CIPD, nor are they a substitute for professional legal advice. Not all queries submitted can be answered, and personal replies are not possible. To pose an anonymous query, visit