Workplace Absence Policies

ACAS logo jpegChecking how your workplace deals with absence

Apart from annual holiday entitlement, an employee might need time off work for reasons including:

  • short-term and long-term sickness, including mental health conditions
  • helping a child, partner or relative
  • medical appointments
  • pregnancy-related illnesses and appointments, including IVF
  • bad weather or travel disruptions, making travelling to work difficult or impossible
  • bereavement

Each workplace might have different rules on what they see as acceptable reasons for absence and what they will pay.  For this reason, every workplace should have its own absence policy, so it’s important to check this.

ACAS has some very helpful guidelines on putting together an Absence Policy

What an absence policy should cover

An absence policy should make clear exactly what’s expected from both the employer and employee if the employee needs to take time off work.

An absence policy should include:

If your workplace does not have an absence policy, the employee can ask their employer or HR manager what to do if they need time off work. The employer should follow best practice as outlined in this guide.

There are some areas that are covered by law, for example:

For more support creating or reviewing an absence policy, ACAS provides:

National Minimum Wage and National Living Wage rates

cash jpegThese rates are for the National Living Wage (for those aged 23 and over) and the National Minimum Wage (for those of at least school leaving age). The rates change on 1 April every year.

Current rates from April 1st 2022

23 and over 21 to 22 18 to 20 Under 18 Apprentice
April 2022 £9.50 £9.18 £6.83 £4.81 £4.81

The hourly rate for the minimum wage depends on your age and whether you’re an apprentice. You must be at least:

  • school leaving age to get the National Minimum Wage
  • aged 23 to get the National Living Wage – the minimum wage will still apply for workers aged 22 and under


Apprentices are entitled to the apprentice rate if they’re either:

  • aged under 19
  • aged 19 or over and in the first year of their apprenticeship

Who gets the minimum wage

Read the information on who is entitled to the minimum wage.

You can use the minimum wage calculator to check whether the National Minimum Wage or National Living Wage is being paid.

Contact Acas if you’re not getting the National Minimum Wage and think you should be.

Supporting mental health at work

2817455C-98F1-4E72-9769-8E9C7D242422Information from ACAS

Employers have a ‘duty of care’. This means they must do all they reasonably can to support their employees’ health, safety and wellbeing.

If an employee has a mental health issue, it’s important their employer takes it seriously. For example, it’s a good idea to talk to the employee to find out what support they might need at work.

There are many types of mental health issue. An issue can happen suddenly, because of a specific event in someone’s life, or it can build up gradually over time.

Common mental health issues include:

  • stress (this is not classed as a medical condition but it can still have a serious impact on wellbeing)
  • depression
  • anxiety

Less common ones include:

  • bipolar disorder
  • schizophrenia

Creating a supportive environment

It’s helpful if employers create an environment where staff feel able to talk openly about mental health.

For example:

  • treating mental and physical health as equally important
  • making sure employees have regular one-to-ones with their managers, to talk about any problems they’re having
  • encouraging positive mental health, for example arranging mental health awareness training, workshops or appointing mental health ‘champions’ who staff can talk to

Employers can find out more about promoting positive mental health at work, including:

  • understanding mental health 
  • creating a mental health strategy
  • educating the workforce 

More information can be found here

Flexible Working

flexible workingFlexible working is a way of working that suits an employee’s needs, for example, you may want to
  • reduce your hours to work part-time
  • change your start and finish time
  • have flexibility with your start and finish time (sometimes known as ‘flexitime’)
  • do your hours over fewer days (‘compressed hours’)
  • work from home or elsewhere (‘remote working’), all or part of the time
  • share the job with someone else

All employees have the legal right to request flexible working – not just parents and carers.

This is known asmaking a statutory application’.

Employees must have worked for the same employer for at least 26 weeks to be eligible.

If this is of interest to you, and you want to find out more, ACAS have really helpful advice here

Sick Pay and Holiday Pay

Sick Pay and Holidays jpegACAS answers questions about sick pay and holiday pay

Employees cannot get sick pay and holiday pay at the same time.

Taking holiday while off sick

An employee can take holiday (annual leave) while off sick. For example, if they: 

  • are not physically able to work, but physically able to take a holiday
  • have a mental health condition that might be helped by a holiday
  • are off sick long term and a holiday might help with their recovery

It’s up to an employee to request holiday while off sick. An employer cannot force an employee to take holiday while off sick.

If the employer approves the employee’s holiday request:

  • sick leave can be paused while the employee takes holiday
  • the employee should get holiday pay while they are on holiday

After the employee has taken the holiday, sick leave can continue if they’re still not well enough to return to work.

If an employee is sick on holiday 

An employee must report their sickness to their employer if they want to take any holiday as sick leave.

In this case the employee can:

  • get sick pay for the time they were sick (as long as they areentitled to sick pay)
  • keep the time they were sick to use as holiday another time

More information from ACAS can be found here

More information from the government can be found here

Managing redundancy for pregnant employees or those on maternity leave

pram-jpegThe beginning of pregnancy to the end of maternity leave is a ‘protected period’ during which a woman is entitled to special consideration if this is necessary to make good any disadvantage she may otherwise experience

The law makes it clear that: 

  • During the protected period, unfavourable treatment of a woman because she is pregnant or on maternity leave is unlawful. This means a woman doesn’t have to compare her treatment with anyone else to show direct pregnancy and maternity discrimination
  • A woman on maternity leave has the right to return to the same job before she left; an interim employee cannot be given her job even if you think the person is a better employee.
  • Selecting a woman for redundancy because of her pregnancy, maternity leave or a related reason is automatically unfair dismissal as well as being unlawful discrimination.
  • Failure to consult a woman on maternity leave about possible redundancy is likely to be unlawful discrimination.
  • A woman made redundant while on maternity leave must be offered any suitable alternative vacancy if you have one. She doesn’t need to apply for it.
  • Special provision for a woman in connection with pregnancy or childbirth is not sex discrimination against a man provided that the action you take does not go beyond what is necessary to rectify her disadvantage.

If you are reorganising and/or need to make employees redundant and this includes someone who is pregnant or on maternity leave, you need to:
· Check the redundancy is genuine and necessary
· Ensure you consult and keep in touch
· Establish non-discriminatory selection criteria
· Consider alternative work.

The full guidance from ACAS can be found here

Inducting New Staff

New Employee ChecklistACAS offers some good advice for employers on how to settle in a new employee once they have accepted a job offer.

They suggest that you use a checklist to ensure that both the new employee and their line manager know what has or has not been covered at any given time.

They both need a copy, which should be kept up to date, so they can follow what is happening.  It can also act as a reminder of anything that needs particular attention.

While a checklist is helpful, it should not turn the induction into a tick-box exercise.  It should be the responsibility of both management and the new starter to ensure all items are properly covered.

The checklist is often drawn up by the employer’s HR department in consultation with other staff involved, such as a safety officer, line manager/supervisor, employee representative and training officer.

A sample checklist, which is free to download and use, can be found here

The ACAS guide to induction can be found here

What To Do When An Employee Resigns

resignation letterAn employer can’t refuse to accept someone’s resignation and they must follow certain procedures.

When a member of staff resigns you must:

  • get them to confirm their resignation in writing.  Verbal resignations given in the heat of the moment could lead to claims of unfair dismissal – always ask for resignations to be given in writing.
  • tell them what their notice period is
  • agree when their last day at work will be
  • confirm whether they should work all or part of their notice period

Employee decisions to retire are a form of resignation.

Verbal resignations given in the heat of the moment could lead to claims of unfair dismissal – always ask for resignations to be given in writing.

To make their departure as smooth as possible, you might also:

  • Agree with the employee the terms of an announcement to other staff concerning their departure, if appropriate.
  • Organise a handover period. This allows for a smooth handover to existing staff or the employee’s replacement of key tasks and responsibilities.
  • Arrange an exit interview.  You can then use their response to determine whether there are any underlying issues to be addressed.
  • Retrieve security passes and all other property of your business, eg tools, uniforms, computers and company cars.
  • Organise their final payment including all money owing, eg pay in lieu of working a notice period, money for unused holidays, overtime and bonus payments.
  • Part on good terms. The person leaving may become a client or may be able to refer business to you. Equally, a disgruntled ex-employee can damage the reputation of your business if they leave on poor terms, eg having identified you as their previous employer then writing about their experiences as your employee on a social networking website or blog. This may be the case where the employee has details on their profile which identifies them as having worked for you.
  • Organise a farewell gift or party, if appropriate. Acknowledgement of good service appreciated is valuable for remaining staff morale and the promoting of a positive organisational culture.
  • Make a point of saying goodbye on the actual day the person leaves and thank them again for all their hard work.
  • Be careful about refernces. You should consider carefully the legal implications of providing a reference:
    • make sure that what you say is true, accurate and a fair representation of the person
    • an ex-employee could bring an action against you for libel, discrimination or defamation of character through a court or tribunal, if they consider the reference to be inaccurate


Contact the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (Acas) if you have any questions about handling staff resignations.

Workers’ Rights

Protect Workers RightsAn employer doesn’t usually have to give a work reference – but if they do, it must be fair and accurate. Workers may be able to challenge a reference they think is unfair or misleading.

Employers must give a reference if:

  • there was a written agreement to do so
  • they’re in a regulated industry, like financial services

If they give a reference it:

  • must be fair and accurate – and can include details about workers’ performance and if they were sacked
  • can be brief – such as job title, salary and when the worker was employed

Once the worker starts with a new employer they can ask to see a copy of a reference. They have no right to ask their previous employer.

Bad references

If the worker thinks they’ve been given an unfair or misleading reference, they may be able to claim damages in a court. The previous employer must be able to back up the reference, such as by supplying examples of warning letters.

Workers must be able to show that:

  • it’s misleading or inaccurate
  • they ‘suffered a loss’ – for example, a job offer was withdrawn

Workers can get legal advice, including from Citizens Advice. They may also get legal aid.

Discrimination and unfair dismissal

Workers might also claim damages from a court if:

  • the employment contract says they must be given a reference but the employer refuses to
  • the worker is sacked because they’ve been asked to give a reference while the worker’s still working for them

Workers can get legal advice, including from Citizens Advice. They may also get legal aid.

Contact Acas (Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service) for advice.

Acas helpline
Telephone: 0300 123 11 00
Textphone: 18001 0300 123 11 00
Monday to Friday, 8am to 6pm

Coronavirus (COVID-19): Good Practice Steps for Employers

Blog image of Acas logoACAS has provided some good practice steps for employers

Employers should consider some simple steps to make sure they continue to provide their staff and customers with a ‘duty of care’.   This means they must do all they reasonably can to support their health, safety and wellbeing.

It’s good practice for employers to:

  • make sure everyone is social distancing if they come into the workplace
  • be especially careful and take extra steps for vulnerable groups, including those who are pregnant, aged 70 or over, or who have a long-term health condition
  • hold meetings as remote calls and avoid travel as much as possible
  • make sure managers know how to spot symptoms of coronavirus and are clear on any relevant processes, for example sickness reporting and sick pay, and procedures in case someone in the workplace shows symptoms of the virus
  • make sure there are clean places to wash hands with hot water and soap, and encourage everyone to wash their hands regularly
  • provide hand sanitiser and tissues for staff, and encourage them to use them
  • make sure everyone’s contact numbers and emergency contact details are up to date
  • keep everyone updated on actions being taken to reduce risks of exposure in the workplace
  • keep up to date with the latest government advice – see coronavirus advice on GOV.UK