National Sickie Day

4th February is named National Sickie Day. National statistics have revealed that the first Monday in February is the most popular day for staff to pull a sickie.

Despite January being finally over, the recent big freeze has lent itself to a convenient excuse to feign illness or claim the widespread flu outbreak as a reason to stay in bed. Employers are consequently put in the difficult position of trying to find ways to effectively manage such absences which can have a detrimental impact on their business to function.

Employment and business advisors ELAS have estimated that sick day absences on the first Monday in February in previous years have cost the economy as much as £34 million in salary, reduced productivity and lost opportunities, with an estimated 350,000 taking the day off sick last year.

The challenge for employers is finding a way to manage unexpected absences and repeated short term absence. This is often more difficult to manage than long term absence due to the challenges of arranging temporary cover when employees take the odd day off here and there without prior warning. Colleagues generally have to cover the duties of the person who is off sick, which can put pressure on their workload and deadlines. Failure to address repeated short term absence can also lead to poor morale for those who have no attendance issues.

Key steps to help manage absence levels

Policies

Robust sickness absence policies which sit alongside an employee’s contract of employment. Clear policies which set out what communication is required from staff when they are not well enough to come to work. For example: whether staff are required to call in, or text, by what time, and to whom the contact is to be made. Strict absence reporting requirements can often act as a deterrent and prevent staff ‘pulling a sickie’.

Policies should also set out what is expected from employees in terms of attendance levels. This is often referred to as trigger points. This will enable employers to deal with matters formally in instances of excessive intermittent absences once a threshold has been reached over a set period of time.

Personnel

Whether your business is large or small, proper record keeping processes, including return to work interviews where employees have to provide reasons for absence, can often assist in minimising short term absences. This process enables employers to notice any pattern in absences, for example if an employee repeatedly takes Fridays and Mondays off. It may identify other unexpected issues that may need to be addressed; for example underlying physical or mental health issues which result in intermittent absences when an employee is unable to come into work.

Sick pay

It is often the employer’s generosity that makes the decision to take a spurious ‘sickie’ easier, especially where there is an entitlement to contractual sick pay. Employers should consider the benefit of having a statutory sick pay scheme which would only entitle an employee to receive Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) (currently at £92.05 per week https://www.gov.uk/statutory-sick-pay ) which an employee is only entitled to receive from the 4th day of sickness absence. It is common place for employers to limit sick pay to SSP for employees in the probationary period and then provide contractual sick pay entitlement once the employee is confirmed in post. One option is to limit contractual sick pay entitlement to a certain number of days per year, or certain number of days per month. Many employers pay employees for intermittent absences due to the administrative burden of notifying payroll of odd days off, which means employees are not out of pocket despite their contract stating otherwise, which is a further incentive for them to have a duvet day!

Dismissal

An employer can dismiss an individual due to ill health or sickness absence on grounds of either capability or conduct.

The dismissal will be for conduct if the employer believes that the employee is not ill but is using sickness as an excuse not to come to work. If the employee is genuinely unwell but the absence whether short term or long term is causing an impact on the business the reason for dismissal will be capability.

Prior to dismissing an employee for any absence(s), it is essential that the employer takes into consideration the whole history of employment and a range of factors such as:

  • The nature of the illness
  • Length of the absences
  • Likelihood of the illness reoccurring
  • Impact of the absence on the business
  • Consistent application of sickness absences policies

What should employers do?

Employers should handle each case on its own set of facts and be mindful of potential issues of disability discrimination where the absence is connected to a condition that could amount to a disability within the meaning  of the Equality Act 2010. In such cases employers are reminded that appropriate steps should be taken, usually by referral to Occupational Health, who would be able to provide some guidance on how to manage any illness.

For further advice on managing absences related to ill heath whether intermittent or long term, please contact us.


Disclaimer

This briefing is for guidance purposes only. RadcliffesLeBrasseur accepts no responsibility or liability whatsoever for any action taken or not taken in relation to this note and recommends that appropriate legal advice be taken having regard to a client's own particular circumstances.

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