The Bradford Factor and its influence on disciplinary procedure
Sick leave can be a problem for small businesses.
Research shows that two in five (41%) employees confessed to pulling at least one sickie in the last year, and more than half a million have pushed their luck by pulling more than eight.
Overall, employees pulling a sickie are costing the UK economy £900 million every year.
The Bradford Factor can help you to identify instances of recurring absence that are setting back your business.
How does the Bradford Factor work?
While the odd day off here and there could potentially go unnoticed, the Bradford Factor calculates a ‘score’ based on repeated absences.
The Bradford Factor uses the formula: S2 x D = B
'S' is the total number of separate absences, 'D' is the total number of days' absence, and 'B' is the Bradford Factor score.
Using this formula, an employee will generate a higher score based on a higher frequency of days off (even if they take fewer days off overall).
High point scores could be seen as a trigger for disciplinary procedures, though there are no set guidelines for trigger points.
Each business that uses this system will have their own unique thresholds for high and low Bradford Factor scores. A typical example might be:
51 points – verbal warning.
201 points – written warning
401 points – final warning
601 points – dismissal
Advantages of using the Bradford Factor
Using a mathematical formula takes the emotion out of a situation. You can justifiably highlight how frequent absences are a growing cause for concern.
Often, just acknowledging the issue is enough for employees to consider their approach to days off more carefully.
The UK Prison Service introduced a similar system to tackle what it called the “unacceptable absence rate” of its 48,000 employees. By 2006, they had reduced sickness absence by about 25%.
The early identification of repeated absence can be an opportunity to discuss any underlying problems an employee may be facing too.
For example, if your team member takes the third Friday of every month off work, you need to discuss why. Maybe there’s a good reason.
If you can address the reason for the absence early, perhaps you can solve the problem—especially if it comes down to a work-related factor such as a clash of personalities on a particular shift.
Where there isn’t an obvious or justifiable reason, using the Bradford Factor to trigger disciplinary action is at least considered a transparent process that treats all staff the same.
You should put your disciplinary procedure in writing, and make it easily available to all staff.
Disadvantages of using the Bradford Factor
While treating all staff the same sounds very fair, no two team members are the same.
A team member with a disability, chronic illness, or children may have reasonable cause to be off work on occasion.
Such a person could have a poor Bradford Factor score, yet to dismiss such an employee would be hugely unfair and could even be in violation of the Equality Act 2010.
Some employees may worry about disciplinary action relating to their Bradford Factor score and push themselves to come to work, even when ill. Such a circumstance can be counterproductive and cause more problems overall, especially in a situation like the Covid-19 pandemic where an illness is contagious.
And, for those employees who are so inclined, the ‘trigger points’ could merely be seen as a boundary for how far they can push the situation before you’ll take action and dismiss them.
It is perfectly legal to use the Bradford Factor Score to take action against frequently absent employees, as long as the trigger points are realistic and fair.
In case of appeals you would need:
Accurate records of sickness periods, including reasons for absence and duration of absence.
Notes on any adjustments made to accommodate or support your employee to avoid an absence (for example, offers of flexible working/alternate shifts).
Examples of support options you may have suggested employees seek outside of work (such as seeing a GP or a counselling service).
Evidence of adjustments for those with disabilities or dependants.
Use the Bradford Factor to influence, not action, discipline
People are complex, and the wide-ranging factors that can affect absenteeism can make following a rigid, numbers-based system difficult.
The Bradford Factor can be an excellent resource for identifying issues, so it can influence discipline procedures. However, you should carefully consider individual circumstances before taking action.