Bradford Factor and disability: flexible absence management

Published on April 9, 2019 by Camille Brouard
Bradford Factor and disability

In this article, we discuss the Bradford Factor and disability, focusing on how this staff absence management formula interacts with approaches to managing workers with disabilities.

The Bradford Factor

The Bradford Factor is a simple and useful formula for measuring levels and patterns of absence in the workplace. As a benchmark for absence (that is available within our absence management module), employers and HR managers often use the Bradford Factor to identify instances of absenteeism (taking sick days without a genuine reason).

The formula places attention on frequent, short-term absences and it can be useful for identifying instances where an employee tends to have 'long weekends' using sick leave, for example. An employee taking frequent short-term absences will score higher than an employee taking less periods of absence but more days off each time. The higher the number, the greater the impact on the business.

When the Bradford Factor interacts with disability

Bradford Factor and disability equality

However, one of the most significant Bradford Factor disadvantages is that it doesn't take individual circumstances into account, such as disabilities, which require an empathetic and contextual approach that a formula alone cannot provide. This means that a disabled employee taking frequent, short term absences that are attributed to their disability could be punished for a reason relating to their disability, which would amount to disability discrimination.

The Equality Act (2010) lists disability as a protected characteristic. Section 15 of the Equality Act states that:

"A person (A) discriminates against a disabled person (B) if—

(a) A treats B unfavourably because of something arising in consequence of B's disability, and

(b) A cannot show that the treatment is a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim."

In light of this, employers should consider making reasonable adjustments to how they measure Bradford Factor scores for staff with disabilities. Response strategies can be tailored to ensure these considerations are at the forefront of an employer's response to absence.

For instance, some organisations count disability related absence differently to general sickness absences, or discount it altogether. This means that disabled workers are less likely to surpass sickness trigger points where absence management procedures would usually kick in. The employee might also require other adjustments to their role, so make sure that you discuss this thoroughly with them. If sickness absence becomes an issue, putting an adjustment in place could help.


The Bradford Factor and mental health

All workers with disabilities require an empathetic approach. However, when it comes to mental health conditions, which can also amount to disabilities, there can be extra layers of difficulty involved for employees and employers alike.

Workers with a mental health condition may feel uncomfortable discussing it due to fear of stigma, in addition to the difficult symptoms of the condition itself. Of course, this will vary from person to person. However, it is important to consider stigma, which affects 9 in 10 people with a mental health condition according to the Mental Health Foundation.

Learn more: Improving employee mental health at work

In trying to cope with a mental health condition, an employee may need to take time off. This is why it's also important to consider Bradford Factor scores in relation to underlying stress and mental health issues. If conducted without understanding, a communication or meeting about absence could make dealing with the condition even harder. This is particularly true for workers who experience stress and anxiety.

Need more information on how to approach mental health in the workplace? The mental health charity Mind have set up a mental health at work hub full of useful information.

Ensuring disabilities are accounted for

Ensuring bradford factor accounts for disability

In order to ensure workers with disabilities are receiving the support they need, it's important to have an open and empathetic approach. Particularly in cases related to mental health, workers may not realise that support and adjustments are available to them – or indeed that they can identify as having a disability.

Of course, it is the individual's choice whether to disclose a disability or not, or whether to request reasonable adjustments. However, it's beneficial to keep your channels open about the validity of disability and details about your approach. This can help staff feel safer and more comfortable about disclosing.

Having all the information you need in one place

It's always helpful to have all the information you require to make informed HR decisions in one place – that's why many SMEs choose HR software to organise their information and documents in a centralised, secure online hub such as myhrtoolkit.

To find out more about how our software helps organisations thrive with HR management, get in touch.

This guide to the Bradford Factor and disability has been checked and approved by senior employment lawyer Matthew Ainscough of Bell and Buxton incorporating Ironmonger Curtis. The guide was last updated on 14th June 2021.

Picture of Camille Brouard

Written by Camille Brouard

Camille is a Senior Marketing Executive for myhrtoolkit who writes on topics including HR technology, workplace culture, leave management, diversity, and mental health at work.

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