You'll be surprised about how many different types of absence from office work there are. In our other guides, we've discussed maternity and paternity leave, adoption leave and sickness leave. Here, we look at other types of time off – so you can work them into a more complete absence policy.
We know people need to take time off work, and for a whole host of reasons. But if you've got a business to run, projects to manage, a workforce to plan, then it's useful to get a handle on the different forms of absence. So you can manage absence better.
The three main forms of work absence are:
- Authorised, planned for (ie. holidays and parental leave)
- Unplanned but legitimate (ie. sickness)
- Unauthorised (ie. going AWOL, or lateness)
So here’s our short guide to these different forms of absence from work.
What are the different types of absence in an office?
Sickness absence, an all too common scenario, arises when an employee finds themselves unfit to work due to an illness or injury. It's a simple fact of life: people fall ill and can't always carry on with their duties as normal. This can come about due to a variety of health conditions - from simple colds to more serious health issues, both physical and mental. Here are the important bits you need to know.
Short-Term Sickness and Self-Certification
In most cases, we're dealing with short-term sickness, perhaps due to a brief bout of ill health. This is usually when someone takes a few days off due to common ailments like colds or flu. During this period of absence, self-certification is generally acceptable. Self-certification is when the employee personally reports they've been unwell, without giving a sick note from a GP. This typically applies for absences of up to 7 days.
Fit Notes and Sick Notes
If the absence extends beyond 7 days, it's usually expected that the employee provide medical evidence in the form of a sick note. This is a document provided by a healthcare professional to confirm the worker’s ill health and say they’re unfit to work.
Statutory Sick Pay (SSP)
During an employee’s absence due to sickness, they’re likely eligible for Statutory Sick Pay (SSP), even if they work part-time. It’s a legal minimum amount that provides some income protection, ensuring they aren't left without financial support while they're unwell. Some employers might choose to offer a more generous amount, sometimes known as Occupational Sick Pay (OSP).
As a HR leader, make sure you understand the rules surrounding SSP, including eligibility and payment details, for a fair approach to managing sickness absence. Terms should be clarified in your sickness absence policy.
Managing Long-Term Sickness
If the short-term absence evolves into long-term sickness absence, typically if the employee is off sick for more than 4 weeks, it's time to consider additional measures. The worker might need a referral to an occupational health service to assess and support their health condition if they do end up returning to work and need some adjustments or interventions.
Employee Return and Mental Health
Providing a safe and comfortable employee return is another important part of absence management. This means addressing not only physical health problems but also mental health issues, which can also cause absences. Offering support, making necessary workplace adjustments, and fostering conversations about health are good for helping your employees return to work confidently.
You might also consider a phased return over a certain period of time, where they work part-time or make use of flexible working to accommodate them. Either way, line managers should do a return to work interview to discuss what the worker needs. This could include reasonable adjustments in their work environment, or if their ill health has been caused by work related stress, a discussion about the underlying causes.
Also known as vacation or annual leave, this is the planned absence of a certain number of days per year for people to do whatever they wish - usually travelling or relaxing.
It’s mostly planned-for in advance, but sometimes a manager might grant immediate leave if the workload allows. Each company will have their own policy for this.
The amount of annual leave each someone can take usually depends on a few things - their length of service, what’s in their contract, what they negotiated. Leave days accrue as the year goes on (eg. 2 calendar days per month plus bank holidays), and if they finish employment before using them all, they'll get paid for the unused days.
In the UK there is a minimum holiday entitlement for all workers set out in official employment law.
Some companies (Netflix are the high profile example) have an unlimited allowance for holidays, as a perk. Whether this is a good idea or not is a matter of opinion, and you’ll often see it at progressive tech companies and startups.
Bereavement / Compassionate
This is when an employee unexpectedly suffers something upsetting, such as the death or serious illness of a loved one. It could also be used if they are the victim of a crime or other traumatic event. The policies and ethics around compassionate leave are a little complex - check out our what is compassionate leave article for some more in-depth guidance, including how to prepare for it.
Many of us live in areas with unpredictable bus services, or trains that regularly break down. Weather can contribute to this, too: heavy snow, especially in rural areas, can be unsafe to travel in.
If someone is unable to work from home, and these issues are serious enough to stop them safely getting to and from the office in a reasonable amount of time, leave can be granted - paid or unpaid. If it just results in lateness, then the company lateness policy will have to cover it.
Maternity, Paternity and Adoption Leave
These are the names for planned time off work to welcome new children into a family, and to attend antenatal appointments. Usually, new mothers get a long stretch of time off and dads take only a few weeks. Things are changing - you can now share parental leave with some couples choosing to take a more equal split.
As for allowances, they depend on the employees’ length of service with the company. It can get a bit complicated, so have a look at our guides to Maternity and Paternity Leave for more about entitlements and other aspects of parental leave.
Witness at court / Jury duty
This is when someone is called up to be a juror in a legal case. It means they might be off work for a number of weeks, and they’re not allowed to skip it unless there's exceptional circumstances.
Interestingly, according to the Ministry of Justice in the UK, you've got about 35% chance of getting summoned in your lifetime.
If you’re one of the (un)lucky few, there’s more detailed info available at Gov.uk.
This covers leave taken for routine medical appointments - doctors, dentist, physio, counselling, therapy. There’s no statutory right for this kind of appointment, but most decent companies have a policy in their handbooks.
Training / Disciplinary
Training leave could include mandatory training on new procedures or business changes, on or off-site, often taken in groups - this would be paid as a business expense. It could also be individual training - often paid for by the company upon request of the worker as part of their CPD (continuous professional development), as long as it’s relevant and useful for the company as well as the worker.
Those aged 16 or 17 can take time off work to train for a qualification.
Leave for disciplinary procedures exists for serious cases - when the worker has to be suspended and away from the workplace while investigations are made into their conduct. This leave is paid.
A sabbatical is a long, voluntary break from work. People take these to rest, travel, learn new skills, volunteer, look after relatives, learn new skills - the list is endless.
They’re taken with permission from their employer and planned a fair bit in advance.
AWOL / Lateness
AWOL (Absent without leave) is when someone simply doesn't turn up for work and no reason is given. It can be a hard one to deal with, companies take different approaches and it's sometimes a disciplinary matter.
It's the same with lateness - some companies say any more than 15 minutes of lateness will be counted, others are more lenient. Some even say that arriving one minute after the shift starts counts, if you work for that type of company then we feel for you.
Unpaid leave / Exceptional circumstances
For just about everything else, this is the category. Depending on company policy there will usually be a way to deal with reasons for leave that don’t fit anywhere else. When life brings a domestic crisis - a house burglary, fire or flood for example - this might be used to provide some recovery time.
How to manage all the different types of absence
Managing all these absence types can be a bit complicated. We hope you’re not trying to do it with a spreadsheet (or perish the thought – paper files).
This is why we built Timetastic. It’s absence tracker software that automatically records and manages your team’s time off.
With our easy-to-use system, you can note whatever type of absence you need for your worker. You can then see a complete picture of their absence history, and how it stacks up against the rest of the company on your whole team’s wallchart.
Workers can even log sickness themselves through our mobile app, letting management know immediately how their absence fits into the team plan. It’s a smart, modern method of sick leave tracking that maintains privacy where it’s needed.
Timetastic is used by over 175,000 employees and their managers.