Bradford Factor: exploring the good and the bad

And the ultimate question is: should you use it?

First published on Thursday, Jun 04, 2020

Last updated on Wednesday, Nov 03, 2021

I've never heard of the Bradford Factor, what is it?

Okay here's a quick recap—but feel free to check out our full BrightBase guide on the Bradfactor Factor. We'll wait here while you read that first.

It's a mathematical formula that, when used, gives you a score based on someone's absence patterns.

The higher the score that the formula gives, the bigger the problems of the person's absence pattern.

How does it work?

The Bradford Formula looks like this:

S² x D = B

S is the total number of separate absences by a person. You times this number by itself.
D is the total number of days of absence of that person.
B is the Bradford Factor score.

Okay so, let's say two of your staff take six sick days over a six-month period.

Person A takes six days in a row and then comes back to work.

Person B takes one sick day a month across each of the six months.

The Bradford Factor gives person B a higher score than person A, and suggests that person B's absences have a larger effect on your business.

Is the Bradford Factor fair to use?

You knew this was coming. There are Bradford Factor pros and cons. Where would we be without at least two sides to every story?

One of the advantages of the Bradford Factor is that it's a mathematical system. You work out scores using the formula.

As a person's score goes up, they might hit certain trigger points. For example:

  • 0 points = no concern about your employee.
  • 51 points = informal verbal warning with notes on suggested improvement.
  • 201 points = written warning.
  • 401 points = final written warning.
  • 601 points = enough cause for dismissal after continued absenteeism and due warnings.

The score takes away employer subjectivity. No one can accuse you of taking action against them or someone else because you dislike them. And you can't just ignore the evidence when someone you like has a high score.

However, one Bradford Factor disadvantage is that of indirect discrimination. While treating all staff the same sounds like an ideal setup, no two of your staff are the same.

Let’s take persons A and B again—let’s even name them. Adam and Becca.

Adam took six days off in a row last month because of a rough case of the 'flu. His Bradford Factor was 1 x 1 x 6, which is a score of six. Very low score.

But Becca took one day sick per month for six months because of a known medical condition—let’s say she suffers from chronic migraine attacks that last 24 hours or so. She takes medication every day and has done for over ten years, but the medication doesn't always prevent an attack.

6 x 6 x 6 equals 216.

Wait a minute, this seems unfair…

Based on the trigger points back up the page, Becca’s absence pattern could lead to a written warning.

If you use the Bradford Factor for staff who have medical conditions, disabilities, mental health problems, or family members who have one or more of those, they are likely to need more time off than the average employee.

For this reason, adjusting the trigger points for employees with known circumstances can help both them and you.

Your treatment is then fairer, and you show that you’re a boss who listens and cares about your staff. Make sure you always follow a fair procedure for absence. Your employees should be able to find this procedure in your absence management policy.

You might find that return-to-work interviews are a good opportunity to learn more about why your employee was off sick, what you could do to help them, and to make sure they are fit to work again.

Is the Bradford Factor legal?

In short, yes. You can take action against repeated instances of unauthorised absence.

But you need to set fair trigger points, such as the scores above. It’s not a crime to be ill, after all. If you hand out a final written warning after someone takes one day off, you’re being too harsh.

You should also note that staff can take time off to deal with issues such as caring for a dependant.

"The code is more like guidelines than actual rules." Do you remember that line from Pirates of the Caribbean? It's a good way to think of the Bradford Factor, too. Let it prompt you when a score reaches a trigger point so that you can catch up with an employee and find out the reason behind their absence, and whether you can offer any support.

Does it work?

Pro: In a way, yes. It can act as a clear warning to staff that you're monitoring their absence.

Con: Bradford Factor effectiveness is hard to measure without surveying all businesses that use it.

Would you use it?

You now know the advantages and disadvantages of the Bradford Factor. It's up to you to decide whether you plan to use it with your staff.

But remember: Bradford Factor problems crop up when you treat all staff as if they're the same.

So, if you do choose to use it, bear in mind how you'll factor in your staff with medical conditions, disabilities, mental health issues, and dependants. Make sure you have a fair and reasonable procedure in place.

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