I have an employee who I know suffers from low self-esteem. I knew that she had these issues when she started with us but I took a chance and she is generally very good at her job. She does, however, have a poor attendance record and I want to address this with her without making her feel worse about herself. I am also unsure whether or not I am allowed to address absences in case they are related to her low self-esteem (which she sometimes refers to as depression, although I am not aware that she has been diagnosed by a medical professional).
You are entitled to address poor attendance with any employee, so long as you are aware that, if the employee suffers what would be regarded as a ‘disability‘ under the Equality Act, then you have to be a bit more careful about what steps you take as a result.
Do you know why she is absent on each occasion? If you know that it is not related to her depression, then you would follow the same procedure as you would for anyone else, which would generally involve some informal chats expressing concerns, followed by disciplinary proceedings if there is no improvement. Given your awareness of her ‘depression‘ though, if she links the absences to this (or you have a reasonable suspicion that it is linked), then you should explore whether or not there is anything that you can do to assist her and improve her attendance. She might be as anxious about it as you are. If her absences are reaching a stage whereby she is not able to fulfil her role, then you need to make ‘reasonable adjustments‘ (which will depend on the size of your business and your resources) and if that still doesn’t work, you would be entitled at that stage to dismiss her, having followed a fair procedure before doing so.
It may help, in the first instance, to do things to boost her confidence. After an absence, tell her how much she was missed when she was off and that it was difficult to manage without her. You may want to consider always having a return to work interview with her each time she is off – that in itself usually reduces absences as people know that they have to look you in the eye and justify their absence to you face to face. Use that interview not just to note her absence formally, but also to tell her that she was missed, what happened whilst she was off and who she should speak to in order to get up to speed.
I hope that helps!