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Don't take the mickey - how to banish the "sickie"

Posted on Jul 09, 2014 by Hannah Roche  | 0 Comments

The male menopause, being attacked by ants, the dog ate the house keys.....just a few of the reasons given by employees to their employers for not turning up to work.... According to a survey of over 2000 people by professional services firm PwC, one in three of us have admitted to “pulling a sickie”, costing UK businesses £9 billion a year.  Thankfully, most people escaped the ant attacks, hormone fluctuations and hungry hounds but were, instead, absent due to hangovers, being bored with their job and attending interviews with other employers.  Others took sickies to enjoy the good weather or because they had a bad case of “Mondayitis”.  Others still took cheeky days off to watch sporting events.   So, while the football and tennis fans amongst you may lament our performance in the World Cup and at Wimbledon, it may actually be good news for employers.  Every cloud and all that....   

However, the Commonwealth Games are still to come and hopefully we’ll have good reason to watch them.  And, of course, most employee absences are for genuine reasons.  So how should employers deal with short term absence in order to reduce it as far as possible whilst at the same time supporting employees?  Here’s a few tips:

  • Implement a robust absence reporting procedure requiring that employees phone their manager rather than text or leave a voicemail.
  • Managers should enquire during the phone call about the reason for the absence and its expected duration.
  • Require employees to fill in self-certification forms for absences of fewer than 8 days’, asking the reason for the absence and whether the employee visited a doctor (and keep the forms on file).
  • Require employees to provide Fit Notes from their doctor for absences of 8 days or more.   If the note says that an employee “may be fit” to work so long as certain adjustments are made (e.g. to hours or duties), try to facilitate the employee’s return by making the adjustments if possible.
  • Monitor absence and analyse reports.  Are there any patterns that can be established?
  • Hold Return to Work interviews to try to establish the underlying reason for the absence. Ask whether the employee saw a doctor, how they are feeling and what support you can offer.
  • Remain open minded about the absence. Bear in mind that absences may be work-related (e.g. due to stress, bullying or de-motivation).  Return to work interviews help you establish the root cause and then begin to address the issue.
  • Implement a system whereby a certain number of absences within a specified period leads to a meeting with the employee (e.g. five separate absences in a twelve month period).  Reasonable targets and timescales for improvement should be set and recorded.
  • If there’s little or no improvement, a formal capability/absence procedure should be implemented.  Formal warnings should be issued if attendance is still problematic.  
  • Consider whether the employee may be disabled in terms of the Equality Act 2010. Employers should consider obtaining medical reports if more information is required.   Request that the doctor providing the report make suggestions as to adjustments that could be made to help combat the impact of any disability.
  • As a last resort, if you’ve been through the formal procedure, allowed enough time for improvement and supported the employee in this, and there has still been little or no improvement, it’s open to you to dismiss on the grounds of capability or misconduct (usually with the right of appeal).  Remember that a different approach should be taken if the employee is disabled.

A consistently applied and robust absence management procedure (which should be in writing and disseminated to staff), should reduce the levels of absence.  Employers could also consider some more positive initiatives such as implementing flexible working so that employees have more control over when they work to reduce unauthorised absences, or even introducing duvet mornings so that employees have a certain number of days a year when they can have last minute lie ins (subject to work-loads).   I wonder if Sandy Finlayson will agree to this!

If you would like to implement an absence management procedure or have your existing one reviewed, or require any other HR or employment law advice, please get in touch with me or Hayley Anderson on 0131 226 8200.

In the meantime, enjoy The Games!

Hannah  

 Hannah Roche

Head of Employment and Holistic HR

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