Flexibility in absence management with the Bradford Factor

While most HR Managers understand the purpose of the Bradford Factor scale, many employees don’t.

An employee’s Bradford Factor score shown on the Activ Absence Management Dashboard

 

Employees often think that there are ‘hard and fast’ Bradford Factor rules that apply to every company, and they often ask whether or not the Bradford Factor is legal, and what the ‘legal rules’ are surrounding its use.  One of the most common searches on Google is ‘Bradford Factor rules’.

 

The Bradford Factor is just a scale – that’s it!

Absence management software developers Activ Absence explain the Bradford Factor as being like a fuel gauge on your car – whereas your car measures your speed, the Bradford Factor measures absence from work in terms of the impact that absence has on the business.

Just like the same car dashboard can be used in any country, but mileage limits vary from one country to another, the Bradford Factor scores work in any environment, but the action taken at different scores (if any) will vary from one company to another, depending on the company’s HR policy.  Not all employers use the score anyway.

 

Why ‘Bradford Factor’ and not ‘Sickie Scale?

The scale was developed by the Bradford University School of Management, who were researching sickness absence and found that lots of short term sick days caused more business disruption than long term sickness absence.  The scale was therefore named after the school.

 

How does the scale work?

Four employees could have taken the same number of days off sick during a year, say ten days each, but their patterns of sickness absence, and therefore their impact on the organisation would be different.  The Bradford Factor is simply a formula that adds weight to short term absence to illustrate this.  Some employers tie their absence disciplinary policy into a Bradford Factor score, others don’t.   Neither are right or wrong, it is just ‘the way they do things’.

 

How do you calculate an individual Bradford Factor Score?

We’ve taken this information from the Activ Absence website, which also has a handy Bradford Factor calculator:

The actual formula looks like this:
S x S x D=Bradford Factor

S is the number of spells of absence of an individual over a given period; and
D is the total number of days of absence of the individual over the same period

Here are some examples of how the calculation works in practice:

(a) One absence of 10 days = 1 x 1 x 10 = 10 points
(b) 3 absences of 1 day, 3 days and 6 days – 3 x 3 x 10 = 90 points
(c) 5 absences of two days each – 5 x 5 x 10 = 250 points
(d) Ten absences of one day each – 10 x 10 x 10 = 1,000 points

How should my company use the Bradford Factor?

There is no right or wrong way to use the Bradford Factor, as it is only a tool.  Usually, HR will decide what levels should be set (if any), and what action happens when that level is reached.

These can be monitored manually, although it can be a pain for line managers to continually calculate and keep an eye on regularly for each individual employee.

HR Managers using absence management software like Activ Absence will notice that the Bradford Factor is automatically calculated for each member of staff.   This enables them to run reports across a team, department or across the business (depending on the provider).

However, the more useful absence management systems have built in trigger point alerts which will automatically notify HR or a line manager when an employee’s Bradford Factor reaches a certain threshold.

Once a threshold is reached, the organisation’s HR policies will determine what happens next.  Consequences for reaching a trigger vary widely among employers, for example, here is how one public sector employer uses the scale:

51 points – verbal warning.
201 points – written warning
401 points – final warning
601 points – dismissal

Other employers simply set triggers to have a discussion at these points.  Usage varies widely.

Showing an employee their ongoing Bradford Factor Score can have a big motivational effect on employees, who take pride in seeing their score as low as possible – even if your company does not use the Bradford Factor for disciplinary purposes.

A flexible approach is often the most effective in reducing sickness absence.

 

Can you give examples in practice?

The Bradford Factor scale doesn’t care why people are off sick, only that they are.

Lets say two employees have had 5 periods of absence, each lasting two days, giving them both a score of 50.  The Bradford Factor score would have triggered disciplinary action if being used by the company above.

A ‘hard rule’ such as shown above in the Local Authority would see both employees disciplined with a verbal warning.  This would be ‘fair’ in that it would apply equally to all employees – but it may not achieve the best outcome for the employer, which is a reduction in future absence.  It could also be deemed ‘unfair’ under disability rules if not adjusted to account for certain circumstances.

Combining the Bradford Factor score with previous feedback from return to work interviews enables HR to offer an individual approach and determine the best response to prevent further absence, rather than simply ‘punishing’ employees.  Looking at our two employees:

Person ‘A’ appears to be taking sickies, with no real reason for the absence.  The return to work interview records show that ‘ailments’ are not serious, and a chat with the line manager reveals poor motivation and a bad attitude.  Disciplinary action, such as a verbal warning based on triggering a Bradford Score seems reasonable.  The impact of the warning would hopefully see the employee’s absence behaviour corrected – therefore, the local authority example given above would achieve the aim of managing sickness absence in that employee.

Person ‘B’ is stressed and disengaged in return to work interviews, they appear awkward and tearful.  They disclose they are thinking about visiting their GP due to stress (at which point their GP is likely to sign them off work).  A verbal warning, using the scale above is likely to be the trigger that sends them to the GP to get signed off.   The added stress of the warning could even make them fearful of returning to work and prolong the resultant absence.

Stress and depression could constitute a disability, so careful handling is essential anyway.  Having a flexible approach would see the Bradford Factor trigger prompting a sensitive review, and the return to work interview notes would indicate an employee not really coping.  This could alert HR to explore potential mental illness and offer appropriate support, such as a referral to occupational health or counselling, making any workplace adjustments and/or a change of hours. The extra support could help keep the employee in work, guide them towards recovery and possibly prevent longer term absence. The disciplinary option is still available to HR, but it is unlikely to be the most effective tool in this case.

This individual, best-practice approach is only possible if a system documents the facts from the very beginning so the ‘human’ HR manager can apply the skills they trained for.  Having a good return to work process and an absence management system can support HR Managers in making good, flexible decisions that require sensitivity and judgement.

 

If someone is disabled, can I dismiss them for disability related absence if they reach a Bradford Factor trigger?

The British Disability Discrimination Act 1995 and 2005 (DDA), (replaced by the Equality Act 2010) creates a duty on employers to tailor their actions to the individual circumstances of disabled employees.

Whilst their absences may still have the same impact on an organisation, disabilities like epilepsy, MS or asthma are more likely to result in short term rather than long term absence.  As employers cannot discriminate against disability,  these protected characteristics may need to be taken into account – a reasonable adjustment could be to record disability related absence separately so they do not count as part of the Bradford Factor score.  Some (not all) automated absence management systems will enable HR to do this.  It is a useful tool.

However, there is no legislation which specifically mentions the Bradford Factor, nor is there a magic number that is considered a ‘reasonable’ level of time off for a disabled worker.

Employers have a duty to make reasonable adjustments, but there is a limit to what level of absence is reasonable even when an employee has a disability.  This will depend on many individual factors and can be complicated so our advice is always to speak to occupational health or to an employment law specialist on a case by case basis before making any decision to dismiss for disability related sickness absence.

 

What about long term absence and Bradford Factor Triggers?

Again, there is nothing set down specifying the way these should be handled and flexibility and seeking appropriate advice on a case by case basis is the best approach.

Cancer or any other serious but recoverable illnesses could see an employee rack up over 200 points from a single long absence – but they will often be able to return to work after they recover.  Most employers would not want to give a written warning in these circumstances, and would want to support their employee through a very troubling time, and see them return to work successfully after it.    However, other long term illnesses, such as stress and depression could have a variable prognosis and an unclear recovery timescale.

These cases are more complex and where an employee is expected to return to work, even after a long period of absence,  gentle, sensitive handling and implementing a return to work plan is usually more appropriate than applying a ‘hard rule’ based on the Bradford Factor.  Similarly, where a long term absence holds an uncertain prognosis, consultation with appropriate experts is usually a more appropriate tool than disciplining an individual for having a high Bradford Factor score.

Ultimately, like any other tools, the Bradford Factor is more useful in some cases than others.  However, used well, it can be a useful ally in letting HR know when their skills and judgement are needed.

Author: Editorial Team

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