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4: When all else fails

Did you know?

  • To determine if an individual’s absence level is reasonable, managers need to consider the reasons for the absence. If a manager suspects that the reasons may not be legitimate, then the level of absence might be unreasonable.
  • A more formal approach is required for frequent and prolonged absences that tend to show a pattern or where reasons for the absence are questionable.
  • A more formal approach is required when an employee fails to follow procedures or displays erratic work patterns like frequent lateness, leaving early and/or taking long breaks.

Manager’s discussion guide

These discussions can be difficult for both the manager and the employee. With appropriate preparation and skill, they provide the manager with the opportunity to demonstrate concern, build trust and identify solutions. A manager’s checklist and key steps are outlined below.

Manager’s checklist

  • articulate concern for the employee’s ongoing wellbeing
  • confirm the employee is recovered and fit to return to work or other issues are resolved
  • update the employee on work matters
  • review the employee’s absence record and discuss areas of concern
  • use discussion to uncover circumstances and causes of absence
  • offer support to help the employee improve their attendance
  • explore opportunities to change work arrangements (e.g. start/finish times, working from home, job sharing, job rotation or part-time work)
  • reaffirm the agency’s expectations
  • discuss a way of moving forward with a view to seeking agreement if possible
  • outline possible consequences of further absences (if necessary)
  • make a written record of the discussion, and have the employee sign that this is a correct record.

Step 1—Prepare

  • Assess the situation and gather relevant information (see checklist above).
  • Speak to your Agency’s Human Resources area for advice. Ensure that appropriate privacy and confidentiality are maintained.

Step 2—Arrange

  • Make an appointment to meet with the employee and let them know what the discussion will be about so they can come prepared. Advise the employee that they can be accompanied if they wish.

Step 3—Conduct

  • Set the scene by establishing rapport and checking the employee’s understanding of the purpose for the meeting.
  • Outline your concerns and provide records of absences to support your concerns.
  • Discuss how absences have impacted on the employee’s and team’s performance.
  • Identify and explore possible solutions.
  • Document details, including agreements and actions.
  • Agree on time for follow-up to review progress—the individual circumstances will dictate whether it might be necessary to meet on a daily, weekly, fortnightly, monthly or longer term basis. An employee could be asked to suggest a time frame that can then be considered and agreed.

Step 4—Follow-up

Ask your Human Resources area:

  • for expert advice and guidance
  • how to utilise Employee Assistance Program services and other expert support services
  • to explore career counselling services and fitness for duty assessments, if applicable.


  • It is more effective to work with employees to find a solution rather than to impose one from above.
  • Keep discussion focused on the issue rather than the person.
Last reviewed: 
29 March 2018