Absence Management/Capability

by Guest

June 6, 2020

An employee who had been off work with a work-related stress issue

We were asked by this client to assist them in dealing with an employee who had been off work for over 4 months with a Work-Related Stress issue.  The client employed 40 people in one office in 4 separate teams.

The employee had worked for the client for over 6 years and previously had no issue with attending for work.


The client admitted that the employee had been submitting Fit Notes on time and that they had talked to them on telephone calls, two or three times, but had never met with the employee.


They had several Policy and Procedures that they had drawn down from the Internet but had no internal HR support.


We agreed to assist this client with the issue.  We first looked at their current Absence Management and Capability Policies. 

They both were adequate although the Absence Management Policy did not include any mention of being able to contact the employee’s GP or Consultant to ask for medical reports which was a serious omission.


We immediately asked the client to arrange a welfare meeting with the employee to determine how their health was and to see if anything could be done to help them and to find out what support was needed to get them back to work. 

This meeting would also identify any work issues that were causing this problem, and these would then be addressed.

The Employee

The employee stated at the welfare meeting that her stress was due to a complicated combination of factors that included:

  • low self-esteem due to a recent verbal warning
  • disturbed sleep and panic attacks due to fear of making a further mistake at work
  • a recent bereavement (father)
  • new responsibilities caring for her elderly mother

During the mediation

We discussed several options with the employee at the meeting:

What was discussed

  • adjusted hours/shifts during her phased return
  • adjusted duties
  • flexible working
  • working with a “buddy” during her phased return
  • additional breaks of 5-10 minutes as required if feeling stressed or anxious
  • work-based stress risk assessment to be completed
  • weekly 1:1 meeting with her manager
  • counselling

Follow up:

Following this meeting the employee’s manager admitted that they were unaware that the employee was suffering from these problems.  There was a lack of 1:1 management where issues like this could be identified and rectified.


After the employee returned to work, one further meeting was arranged, during their phased return, to check that a return-to-work interview had been conducted, and that agreed recommendations were supporting them effectively. Better outcomes are achieved for employees following sickness absence, where managers have good relationships with staff and are aware of the causes of absence. 


Supporting the manager with clear and timely advice was therefore important.


The employee opted to move to a flexible working contract this enabled her to care for her mother, as these stressors had been identified as contributing to her sickness absence. 

Also, following the risk assessment that was carried out the recommendations for reasonable adaptations to support her in returning to work were implemented on adjustments advised.

The employee returned to work and again became a valuable member of staff.

The client accepted that they needed to improve their Policies and Procedures to fit their business needs. 

They also implemented a training program for all managers using our e-learning training courses.  Especially over people management on a day to day basis.


Better outcomes are achieved for employees following sickness absence where managers have good relationships with staff and are fully aware of the causes of absence. If, for example, sickness absence is caused by a disability, reasonable adjustments could include the episode of absence being discounted thereby avoiding the implementation of unnecessary disciplinary procedures.

Ask Us Anything About HR, Employment Law or Health & Safety

Get FREE access to our factsheet library