How many sick days before a disciplinary?

How many sick days before a disciplinary?

The answer to the question ‘how many sick days before a disciplinary?’ is that there is not a specific number of absences which make disciplinary action reasonable or unreasonable: it is for the organisation to decide what should be done regarding managing sickness. Such decisions are likely to be based on what is said in the organisation’s sickness management policy, as well as the industry in which the company operates, its culture, and the resources available to it.

Organisations often differ in their approach regarding sickness absence and disciplinary action. For example, some organisations specify the amount of sickness absence that would be a trigger point whilst others rely entirely on management discretion.

Sickness absence policy trigger points

Most people would accept that sickness absence is inevitable at some point, but what should be done, and what are trigger points?

As referred to earlier, it is ultimately for the organisation to decide if or when sickness absence results in disciplinary action being taken. Therefore, it is important for an organisation to have policies and procedures in place for managing sickness absence. We have expertise in drafting HR documentation such as sickness absence policies and providing  HR consultancy and training on the topic.

Trigger points may be referred to in the organisation’s sickness absence policy and/or the organisation’s employee handbook. As the phrase suggests, trigger points are intended to prompt further action when certain thresholds are reached. The thresholds would be a certain amount of absence or number of absences within a specified period e.g. 12 months.  Trigger points are a useful tool in alerting organisations to potential concerns, but the key issue is what should be done once those thresholds or trigger points are reached: a meeting to discuss the absences, the initiation of disciplinary action…?

Sickness absence and the Bradford Factor

The Bradford Factor is a formula which essentially provides each employee with a score based on the number of absences, and the number of days the person is absent for, over a specified period.  This formula, or variations of it, are commonly used by organisations as a tool for managing sickness absence. It has appeal because it is often seen as an objective measure in that everyone in that particular workplace will know that there are likely to be consequences once a particular score or trigger point is reached.

Disadvantages of using the Bradford Factor

There are various disadvantages of relying on the Bradford Factor – some of which include:

1. The formula cannot reveal what the reasons for the absence are

As referred to above, the formula essentially takes into account the number of occasions that the person is absent for, and the number of days absent.  Therefore, the formula only tells an organisation half the story: it reveals the amount of the absences but not why the absences have happened. In order to know what action is appropriate, an organisation needs to know why the absence or absences occurred. Otherwise, how is it possible to fairly answer the question at the start of this blog ‘how many sick days before a disciplinary?’


2. Relying entirely on the formula or trigger points can cause unfairness

There may be an assumption that the absence or absences are due to misconduct but what if the absence is due to illness and not therefore something that the individual could have taken steps to avoid? How would the organisation know what the cause was if the Bradford Factor was the only information that was available?

3. Relying on the Bradford Factor causes blinkered thinking

The reasons for sickness absence can be challenging to discover.  If decisions are taken solely on the basis of the formula, decision makers are unable to make choices which take account of all the relevant circumstances: they are unable to override the course of action established by the formula and therefore have no discretion to influence what happens next.


What should an organisation do when deciding whether or not to initiate disciplinary action due to sickness absence?

1. Find out the reason or reasons for the absence

It is essential for an organisation to know the reason(s) for the absences in question. After all, the action to be taken if the absence was due to something beyond the person’s control, such as illness or absence arising from a disability, is likely to need a different approach than a situation whereby the person in question simply wanted an extra day off. Does the organisation meet with staff when they return to work after an absence to find out what was wrong? If so, what does that meeting involve?

2. Follow written procedures


Follow the procedures which apply to the circumstances. For instance, is the disciplinary process appropriate or not? Where the organisation does not have procedures in place, or they are not commonly understood, advice should be sought to get things back on track.


3. Remember that trigger points are just one tool in the process


It can be tempting for an organisation to feel that once a certain level of absence (or trigger point) is reached dismissal is the inevitable outcome, or is automatic, and therefore the usual procedures, such as disciplinary, do not apply. This is not so.


Trigger points are a useful tool to identify potential concerns and discuss next steps, but they are no substitute for the dialogue which is needed to understand why the absence has happened and what should happen going forward.  Similarly, an organisation should go through the full process, such as disciplinary, even if the trigger points show that the level of absence is ‘too high’. In the case of a disciplinary process this would typically mean having an investigation phase, disciplinary hearing, appeal etc. For more information on how to be successful at a disciplinary hearing or long term sick and keeping in touch click the links to view our blogs.


4. Consider gaining professional advice before deciding whether or not to initiate disciplinary action

How absence should be monitored, what interventions should be used and when, and how decisions should be made regarding next steps are all complex questions and training and guidance may well help to clarify the situation and create a process which reflects the needs of the organisation.


 The legal consequences of getting the sickness absence process wrong

As has been referred to throughout this blog it would be unwise for an organisation to simply ask ‘how many sick days before a disciplinary? Such a question is likely to do more harm than good. Employees who have been dismissed, and have the necessary length of service, may seek to bring a claim for unfair dismissal. Furthermore, a person may bring a claim for disability discrimination without having the length of service required for an unfair dismissal claim. For more information on the topic of dismissing staff within 2 years click on the link.

Whatever decisions are taken regarding absences they should not be based solely on a number. Plotkin & Chandler works exclusively in the areas of HR and employment law, supporting both individuals and organisations.

If you are an organisation, we can assist with all aspects of the process for example HR documentation, HR consultancy and training or defending an Employment Tribunal claim.

If you are an individual who has been dismissed and you would like to discuss bringing an Employment Tribunal claim, we would be pleased to hear from you. To find out more about our services for individuals click on the link.

To discuss your needs and the ways that we can help call us on 020 3923 8616 or email us on info@plotkinandchandler.com









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