Are you experiencing a high level of absenteeism in your business? Employees taking leave due to COVID, Flu, their mental health?

Perhaps you also have people who are ‘genuinely’ unwell but choose to come to work anyway.

Interestingly, both absenteeism and presenteeism can be detrimental to your business. What to do?

Common Absenteeism scenarios

  1. You have an employee who repeatedly calls in sick. You’ve spotted a ‘pattern’ emerging of when they take leave each month.

  2. Another employee has exhausted their personal/carer’s leave entitlement due to illness. They’re now on unpaid leave and have provided you with a medical certificate for another 6-week period.

  3. Another employee is constantly leaving work early and taking personal/carer’s leave because they have family responsibilities.

Can you discipline an employee for absenteeism?

Under section 352 of the Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth), an employee who can provide evidence of their illness or injury, is protected by law from being dismissed because of their absence if they're:

  • absent from work for less than 3-consecutive months; or
  • total absence from work is less than 3-months over the last 12-month period; or
  • still drawing from their accrued personal/carer’s leave entitlement.

What’s reasonable?

It is reasonable for employers to expect their employees to reliably attend work. So, what are some of the things you can do?

Employers can actively manage employees who are absent from work. Whether they’re on an extended period of leave due to illness or, they ‘regularly’ call in sick or they are absent because of family responsibilities.

What can you do?

  • Meet with the employee and raise with them your concerns with the frequency of their absenteeism.
  • Seek to find out why? Is it work-related? Is there something you should know about so you can better support them?
  • What support can you provide the employee? This is an opportunity to identify strategies that may address any issues that may come to light during your meeting.
  • Request the employee provide a medical certificate for each period of absence regardless of the time frame. Employers can request their employees to provide a medical certificate for 1-day of absence.
  • Propose a flexible work arrangement for an agreed period of time/ trial period and agree terms and conditions in writing.
  • Identify what the employee needs to work towards and set some specific targets/goals so you can measure outcomes.
  • Provide the employee with a formal written warning and meet with the employee regularly and keep notes of your meetings.


Your people show up for work, they appear busy and often claim ‘how busy they are’, yet their productivity has notably decreased.

Some employees may be in ‘go slow mode’, they may take extended breaks, make numerous personal phone calls.

Others come to work when they are genuinely unwell and ‘soldier on’.

What some employers are doing to reduce absenteeism and presenteeism

Many employers have already made changes in their workplace. Due to the pandemic, they now know that their people don’t necessarily need to be in the physical workplace to perform their jobs. They’ve also realised that the mindset, ‘everyone should arrive early and stay late’, may not be conducive to sustained productivity.

They’re encouraging their people to take care of themselves physically and mentally by providing:

  • flexible work arrangements
  • a mix of working from home and in the workplace (a hybrid work arrangement); and
  • health and wellbeing programs.

Importantly, they are encouraging their employees to stay home when they are ‘genuinely’ unwell.

This is a great start, but will it cure the cause? Not all employers can offer their people a hybrid work arrangement.

There is seldom a ‘one size fits all’ approach

What employers can do is create a supportive workplace environment by asking their people:

What do you want?  What do you value?  What do you need to meet/exceed productivity targets?  What can we do differently to support you?

Chances are your people may not all want the same thing.

Some employees may value a 4-day week while others may prefer a rostered day off each fortnight. A job-share arrangement or an individual flexible work arrangement may work for others.

Perhaps a bonus system for exceeding set targets linked to productivity?

What about your workplace? What could you do?

Ulton’s HR Consulting Services can provide you with:

  • advice on flexible work arrangements, a 4-day week and employee bonus schemes
  • written employment contracts and flexible work arrangements
  • advice and workable solutions to resolve HR issues
  • advice and support on your employer obligations under the Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth), the National Employment Standards, Modern Awards and Work, Health and Safety.

Reach out to our HR Consulting Team by calling (07) 4154 0413 or via our contact form.


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