Sickness absence during the Christmas period

Wed 16th Dec 2015

The run up to Christmas often brings with it increased demand for products and services from businesses across the UK. Meeting this increased demand can be a challenge, particularly when such businesses may find themselves with a diminishing workforce due to sickness absence.

In managing non-attendance during the festive period, businesses should start by making it clear to employees that their sickness absence policy will apply as normal. A comprehensively drafted absence policy setting out what is expected of employees, and demonstrating a willingness to implement it where necessary, creates a deterrent which should significantly reduce the amount of dishonest sick leave among employees.

Unfortunately, even where businesses take preventative steps, the temptation for employees to throw a “sickie” during the Christmas period can be high. Businesses should monitor attendance in the workplace so that any underlying problems can be detected and appropriate action taken.

Businesses may, as a result of monitoring, decide that it is necessary to carry out further investigations into the cause of the absence. This may involve requesting employees to attend a medical examination or a return to work interview.

Where a business has carried out adequate investigations, which on balance show that an employee has taken sick leave dishonestly, the business will be entitled to consider formal disciplinary action which could ultimately lead to dismissal. Businesses should ensure that any disciplinary action is compliant with its disciplinary procedure and is applied objectively and consistently across all employees. This will reduce the risk of potential claims by employees for unfair dismissal and/or discriminatory treatment.

Whilst “sickies” can be increasingly common at this time of year, businesses should take care not to jump to conclusions about unfortunately timed absences. For example, taking sick leave the day after the Christmas party does not necessarily evidence dishonest sick leave. However, it may suggest that further investigation is required.