The Office for National Statistics recently published its annual report on sick days taken by UK workers. Imaginatively titled, ‘Sickness Absence in the Labour Market’, there was good news in that the number of sick days taken in 2014, relative to 1994, had fallen by a whopping 47 million. The bad news is that the UK is still losing 131 million days a year to sickness, with minor illnesses, back, neck and muscle pain the biggest reasons for absenteeism.
Faking sick days can have significant consequences: Nearly 20 percent of employers have fired an employee for falsely calling in sick. Some feckless employees managed to out themselves – with one quarter of the employers surveyed having caught them lying about being sick by checking their social media accounts. Of those, 22 percent fired the employee, but 54 percent were more forgiving and settled on a reprimand.
Accusing an employee of faking illness is not an attractive prospect for an employer. If the allegation cannot be substantiated, it will undermine the working relationship, and could lead to a constructive dismissal claim, and potentially an Employment Tribunal, where such allegations are not sympathetically received. So what steps can an employer take to tackle this thorny issue, and how (if at all), can an employer question an employee’s claim that they were sufficiently ‘disabled’ as to be unable to work, should you find yourself at a Tribunal?
Perhaps there are some simpler measures that Employers can take when they suspect there are absences without adequate cause. Where possible, maybe leave the employee’s work untouched - the prospect of the extra workload on return will hopefully be a sufficient deterrent next time. You could also implement the following:
Have a sick policy that has trigger points stated very clearly within it. For example, it’s perfectly reasonable to say that if an employee has three instances of absence due to illness in a rolling 3-month period, this will trigger a meeting to discuss what’s been wrong and if there are any underlying problems. The term ‘trigger point’ in itself – the horror! – will save you countless sick days.
When a member of staff comes back to work, you could hold a back-to-work interview. Chat through what has been wrong, and make sure they are ready to return to work. You could also have a back-to-work interview form, which both parties sign to say they agree with the contents and any resulting actions. The hassle and embarrassment of going through this process is likely to cut sickness-related absence in half, especially for those employees that are trying to ‘blag you’.
What should be of greater concern, of course, is why the employee doesn’t want to be at work. How often does an owner take time off? Because they can’t, or because they are motivated enough by what they do each day for it not to be a consideration. The employee must surely be lacking in their role somewhere, and the employer would do well to find out why they are not sufficiently engaged.
Occasionally, an unscheduled day off from work is simply unavoidable and employers would do well to remember this and handle it sympathetically. This would ultimately encourage an atmosphere of openness and honesty. Many companies in the US now make allowances for this with an agreed number of ‘duvet days’ written into the employment contract. This allows an employee a set number of days in a given year that they can take advantage of a ‘no notice required’ days leave. This has resulted in a marked reduction in sickies thrown by the workforce.
On the lighter side, some of the excuses made for an absence make for much hilarity. Take for example, the person who forgot they had been hired for the job, or the poor soul who’s ‘dog was having a nervous breakdown’. Of course, you are going to struggle to concentrate if your ‘dead grandmother is being exhumed for a police investigation’ and it would be nigh on physically impossible to get to work if your “toe is stuck in the tap”. In addition, all of the following have been offered as reasons for not going into work – all genuine:
· A bird bit me.
· I was upset after watching The Hunger Games.
· I got sick from reading too much.
· I was suffering from a broken heart.
· My hair turned orange from dying it at home.
You can only hope they’ll be feeling better by tomorrow!