Staffing Management

Absence management is increasingly vital for managers to understand

By Andie Burjek

Jun. 9, 2020

Absence management — the program and policies in place that control absences due to injury and illnesses — is a vital part of workforce management. Employees miss work for a variety of reasons, and managers must make sure they are on top of employee absences and keeping the business running.

That being said, there are certain aspects of absence management that tend to elude managers. Simon Camaj, absence and disability practice leader at Mercer, said that understanding intermittent disability claims is an area in which many managers lack understanding. 

Also read: Leave management should be as simple as submit, approve and hit the beach

This is problematic for both managers and employees. Employees may have a valid claim and a condition that allows them to take time off intermittently to tend to their condition. But a manager is running a business, and they must understand that their employee can legitimately take that time off and still be able to manage their business in that employee’s absence. 

Intermittent versus continuous claims 

A continuous claim happens in a situation where an employee needs short-term disability leave for a finite amount of time. They may, for example, not be at work for six weeks straight, giving the employer the opportunity to plan around their absence and prepare for their return. This is relatively straightforward, Camaj said. 

What often complicates disability leave for employers, though, is when an employee is physically present at work but eligible for intermittent leave. As the UC Santa Cruz human resources team explains, an intermittent leave may allow an employee to take time off in separate periods of time due to a single illness or injury, rather than one continuous period of time. Leave may include periods from an hour at a time, a day at a time or multiple days in a row, the HR guidance added.  

Communication between employees and managers is the biggest challenge here, Camaj said. Leave policies may not be clear on the role of the manager and employee regarding intermittent leave. 

Also read: Employers grapple with laws about work schedules 

The relationship between management and company leadership
Company decision makers should be clear on what the organization’s time off and employee leave strategy is and how it fits into what the organization is trying to accomplish.

“If you’re going to offer something to employees, they will naturally consider using it,” Camaj said.  “And you have to balance that with certain business goals and priorities.”

It must be made clear in the policy and communicated to both employees and managers what their role is in this absence management procedure, he said. Who does an employee call when they need to take their intermittent leave? What are they personally responsible for? Meanwhile, managers must know what rights employees have to take intermittent time off and what their strategy is to modify the schedule in case that happens.

Whichever absence management administrator or vendor a company uses has a role here and a responsibility to communicate important information to employees and managers, Camaj said. How does the administrator communicate with the employee who has the legal right to take a certain type of leave? How do they engage with the managers in charge of these employees? 

A paradigm shift 

There’s been a paradigm shift recently where there’s more awareness from employers of the importance of leave management and of employees being able to balance their work and personal lives and health, Camaj said. Evidence of this change includes the expansion of paid parental leave and caregiver leave laws across cities and states. 

”This is employers looking at employees and saying, ‘They’re at different stages of their lives and we have to meet people where they’re at.’” he said. “The paradigm shift is employers are seeing leave of absences as employee health events, and if you do a better job at managing leave as a health event, you have stronger productivity, and it helps everybody. It’s not just a leave program you have to have, It’s a strategy.” 

Also read: Time off policies promote convenience while enhancing engagement

This trend will continue, he said, as employee leave grows increasingly more complex with new local or state laws concerning paid time off and paid leave. The issues employers have managing employee absences are not going away. Still, Camaj said he’s seeing more employers step up to the plate.

”We have a greater focus where employers are looking at their leave policies; managers and employees are trying to understand what they have; and vendors are finally at a point where they’re trying to simplify and support leave administration in general with technology,” he said. “As an industry we’re making progress, but this is only going to continue becoming a bigger focus.” 


Andie Burjek is an associate editor at

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