'Sickie' Rates Set To Soar As Sun And Sporting Success Continue

Lawyer Says Businesses Can Protect Themselves Against A Fall In Productivity


By David Shirt

The combination of hot weather and the start of the Ashes series today, means that businesses must be on their guard for a dip in productivity caused by a sharp increase in the number of employees calling in claiming to be too unwell to work.

The warning from a leading employment law expert at national firm, Irwin Mitchell, comes at the start of the first of five test matches between England and Australia, and during a week when temperatures in the UK have and are expected to continue to exceed 80 degrees.

Glenn Hayes, a partner in the Leeds office of Irwin Mitchell, said: "Unfortunately staff absence rates do increase when the weather is hot. If you add in high profile sporting events into the mix such as the Ashes or Wimbledon, then the impact can be even more significant.

"The fall in productivity caused by people taking ‘sickies’ can cost the UK economy millions of pounds every day, but businesses can protect themselves. Companies, for example, should have a clear policy established regarding sick leave so that employees know where they stand if they can’t make it into work.

"Absences from work need to be explained and the correct policies followed and employees need to be made aware of what they need to do to comply in the event that they are too ill to attend work. Usually this means letting your managers know at the earliest opportunity that you are going to be absent and keeping them informed of the situation should things change.

"On returning to work employees should be asked to explain their absence with the relevant medical notes (where possible), or in a formal or informal return to work interview situation with their bosses.”

Glenn added: "If you are suspicious that an employee was not really unwell, there are steps employers can take.

"Building up evidence against an employee can be part of the disciplinary process, but it is not always necessary to have absolute proof. Other evidence such as investigating an employee’s Facebook profile to see whether they have posted their actions on their site has also been used.

"If a company has strong suspicions that a staff member has taken a ‘sickie’ and has in effect a reasonable belief in that suspicion, it is still possible to punish them as long as the actions taken are reasonable in the circumstances.
"Of course, it is one thing seeking to punish employees for allegedly breaking the rules, but businesses would be well advised to remind staff of the consequences of taking unauthorised absence and failure to adhere to rules in relation to absence now, rather than wait for it to happen. 

"Prevention is of course better than the cure and therefore a simple reminder of the procedures to all staff could have the effect of staff attending work rather than missing it, ensuring time is spent actually on the work itself rather than dealing with the consequences for those that seek to avoid it."