Return To Work Interviews Are Key To Dealing With Staff Absence

Recent Survey Says Sickies Cost UK Economy £8bn Each Year

02.02.2015

David Shirt, Press Officer | 0161 838 3094

Discussing an employee’s absence face-to-face when they return to work is one of the most effective ways of dealing with and reducing ‘sickies’ amongst staff, says leading law firm Irwin Mitchell.

The advice from the national firm to all UK businesses coincides with the so-called ‘national sickie day’.

This traditional peak in illness-related-absences is thought to take place each year on the first Monday in February because people are said to be suffering from a combination of low morale, high workloads, short daylight hours and post-Christmas gloom.

This year, it is predicted that the buoyant jobs market will also drive up the number of sickies as more and more people take time off work in order to attend job interviews.

Fergal Dowling, an employment partner at Irwin Mitchell, said:

Expert Opinion
Employers do not have an obligation to allow employees to take time off work to attend a job interview and individuals should be taking the time out of their annual holiday allowance, rather than pretending to be ill.

“Ultimately, it is difficult to challenge a member of staff who has thrown a sickie if it’s an isolated event and therefore not part of a pattern of behaviour. Employees will be far less likely to do it if they have to speak to their line manager to explain that they cannot make it into work and know that they will have to attend a formal or informal interview with their boss to discuss the absence.”
Fergal Dowling, Partner

Most employers require their staff to speak to a manager if they are too ill to come into work and to ‘self-certify’ the reason for their absence for up to seven days once they return to work. Employees who are absent for over a week, generally have to obtain a fit note from their GP which should set out the nature of their illness and how long the employee is likely to be off work.
 
Fergal added:

Expert Opinion
Employers are required to accept a fit note at face value unless they have convincing evidence which casts doubt on whether the employee is genuinely ill. ‘Evidence’ is more likely to be in the form of Facebook updates these days, but can also include the employee being spotted by a co-worker shopping, walking in the park or sitting in a pub.

“It can be a complex area and it is worth remembering that not all illnesses incapacitate a person to the extent that they need to stay in bed, or remain at home. This is particularly true of long term conditions, such as stress or depression. Being able to go enjoy some social events is not necessarily incompatible with an individual being too ill to return to work.

“Clearly, you might want to ask some questions of an employee, signed off sick due to chronic back pain, being able to run a marathon, gyrate on the dance floor or teach yoga. That would be entirely reasonable. However it is unlikely to be reasonable to ask the same employee to explain how he is able to walk around the shops or go out for dinner. Plus, some health conditions benefit from the individual taking exercise or getting out of the house and employees may be following their doctor’s advice.”
Fergal Dowling, Partner

According to research last year by PwC, the cost to UK businesses of taking sickies was £9bn a year with almost a quarter of employees admitting that it was to attend an interview.