How can small businesses use the Bradford Factor effectively to measure and manage absence without risking any discrimination claims? HR consultant Kate Marchant explains how to utilise the Bradford Factor for the benefit of your business.
Effective and timely management of unplanned absence within a small business is something many employers aspire to – and is often easier said than done!
A popular tool to facilitate the management of unplanned absence is something called the Bradford Factor (BF), which is used by many companies as a mechanism specifically to help manage sickness absence. But how do you use the Bradford Factor effectively, are there any loopholes for employees and employers alike, and what are the pros and cons of this tool? This blog post will delve into these areas…
What is the Bradford Factor?
The Bradford Factor is a method of determining the impact of employee absence based on the theory that short bursts of absence will have a more negative impact on a business than longer absences. For this reason, the Bradford Factor ‘weights’ absence in terms of frequency and duration. The Bradford Factor is then calculated by multiplying the number of instances, or spells, of absence by the total number of days off work.
The formula is S*D = BF
S = Sickness
D = Duration
Sample Bradford Factor scores
For example, say Employee X is sick four times (S = 4) and they take two days off sick (D) in each of the four instances.
Their Bradford Factor score would work out as 4*4*8 = 128
Contrast this with Employee Y, who is sick on two occasions but with more days – five days duration for one absence and 10 for the other.
This employee’s Bradford Factor score would be 2*2*15 = 60
So, even though Employee Y had more days off than Employee X, Employee Y has a lower score because their frequency of absence was lower.
Good and bad scores?
So, what does all this mean – what is a ‘good’ score and what is a ‘bad’ score? This will vary from business to business; however, many will set trigger points leading to actions based on what they believe to be unacceptable levels for their organisation – for example:
- 0-60 points = no action
- 61 – 130 points = verbal warning
- 131 – 400 = written warning
- 401 – 650 = final written warning
- 651+ points = dismissal
How do you use the Bradford Factor effectively?
It’s important to remember the Bradford Factor is a tool, but not a tool to use in isolation when taking decisions in connection to employment. In determining whether to take formal action against an employee, it is vital to take their specific circumstances into account, as there could be many reasons for a high Bradford score, not least the fact they may have a long-term ill health issue which could have a major impact on an employee’s day-to-day life (i.e. possibly a disability, which is a protected characteristic). So, to use the Bradford Factor effectively, it really needs to be part of the conversation, as opposed to the focus.
Given the above points, is it worth using the Bradford Factor? Well, there are certainly some advantages to using it, for instance:
- It gives the employee an idea of the impact their absence levels have on a business
- It removes subjectivity
- It is simple to use
- It can form the basis of meaningful dialogue with an employee
However, the main draw back to using the Bradford Factor is the risk it can pose to claims of direct and indirect discrimination if used as a blunt tool.
The Bradford Factor and potential discrimination
Let’s examine this in more detail; if you have two employees and one of them took 10 days off in a row for a bad bout of gastroenteritis and the other took one day of sickness each month for six months due to issues associated with a long term health condition (e.g. diabetes), the first employee would come out with a Bradford Factor score of 10 (low) and the other would come out with a score of 216 (high).
If you look at the trigger points suggested earlier on in the article, then the second employee would be in written warning territory. However, the second employee has a long-term condition which may constitute a disability and, as such, may need to have more time off than other employees. If an employer moves straight to a written warning, they are potentially treating the employee less favourably based on their condition, which would amount to discrimination. This is why it is so important to consider the specific circumstances of each individual and not to treat everyone in the same way which, on face value, often appears to be a fair and valid approach.
To place the second employee on a level playing field with employees who do not suffer from a long-term condition, consideration should be given to removing any absences relating to the long-term ill health issue from the Bradford Factor score and/or adjusting trigger points for employees with known conditions.
So, should businesses be using the Bradford Factor?
To answer the initial question as to whether it is worth using the Bradford Factor, the answer is... maybe! It can certainly act as a decent warning to staff about their absence levels and the impact they have on the business, plus it is simple to use… however, it should never be used in isolation, and for that reason people may question: why use it at all?
Ultimately, it is useful to set some expectations around absence levels and what is acceptable/unacceptable, and the Bradford Factor is one way of doing this. Another way is to set triggers around the number of instances over a particular time period.
However, the reality is that these measures are a crude tool and employers should consider a holistic approach to absence management, including return to work interviews, health and well being action plans, occupational health referrals, and line manager training around the same – all underpinned by effective and clear policies and procedures, allowing for a fair and balanced approach with those who have long term medical conditions.
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Written by Kate Marchant
Kate Marchant is an experienced HR professional and CIPD Associate Member who offers straight talking HR solutions for SMEs with friendly and jargon free advice through her consultancy Running HR Ltd.