Top tips to help you manage staff absences over winter

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With the NHS braced to face the worst flu season in history, now seems to be an appropriate time to start planning for the inevitable bout of staff sickness which is likely to affect UK businesses.

In the event of that unexpected call from a staff member saying they can’t come to work, childcare providers may resort to a number of emergency measures. Some of these measures are costly, such as drafting in last-minute agency staff.  However, there are additional steps you can take to ensure that staff absence is managed efficiently. This will reduce the potential impact and associated costs that staff absenteeism can have on your setting.

Ask if a staff member’s absence is due to their child being ill

According to workplace advisory service ACAS, all employees have the right to time off during working hours to deal with unforeseen matters and emergencies. This includes time off to support dependants such as children. However, there is no legal right to be paid.

In an ideal world, staff would make a distinction between being absent because they’re ill or because they’re taking time off to care for a child who is sick. This is important because it needs to be recorded separately on your HR records. Making this distinction will reduce the impact that this kind of absence has on your wage bill and it means that, if your staff member manages to find childcare cover, they can come back into work that same day.

Ask employees to self-certify their absence

If a staff member’s absence lasts longer than 7 days, a doctor’s certificate (known as a fit note) will normally be required to outline a reason for their incapacity.

To help deter unnecessary absence, it can be helpful to ask staff to self-certify their absence on their return to work – even if it’s just for one day. A self-certification form will ask the staff member to detail the cause of their absence and sign to confirm they’re providing factual information.  By asking employees to certify their absences, it makes the process a little more formal. The result is that calling in sick becomes less of an attractive option for those who aren’t truly ill.

For best practice, you could also hold a return to work meeting on their first day back to work to ensure your staff member is fit and to offer any subsequent support.

Remind everyone of the notification process for sickness

Unfortunately, illnesses can spread very quickly in a childcare setting, so it’s important that everyone is clear about the procedure for calling in sick. This should already be detailed in your Employee Handbook, but it can be helpful to send a reminder to staff. Who do they have to contact? Must they call in and speak to someone or is it sufficient to send a text? Is the staff member expected to give an update to their line manager for every subsequent day that they have off sick?

Staff absence due to sickness is inevitable in any business. However, it needs to be dealt with in a fair, consistent and sympathetic way. If it’s not managed well, staff absenteeism can have a huge impact on your setting and your wage bill. Make sure your staff know what’s expected of them in the event of having to call in sick and ensure that staff absenteeism is tracked and monitored accurately in all instances.  


Our award-winning nursery management software, Abacus, allows you to store staff information, schedule shifts, manage ratios and diarise training. Abacus enables you to stay on top of your staff management so you can be confident that your children are receiving the highest quality care at all times.

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