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Sickies: What can I do about them?

You’ve probably heard a lot of excuses in your time for why someone can’t come into work. Have you also probably heard a good selection of employees’ best ‘ill person’ voice? Sound familiar?

Whilst most I’m sure are genuinely sick (ever the optimist that I am), I’m sure you sometimes have your suspicions.

Maybe never more so than when it’s Monday morning and you have seen the ‘sick’ employee having a marvellous time in your local city centre and falling out of the local kebab shop at 4 am on Sunday morning. All of this is obviously plastered all over social media (pardon the pun).

The Figures

But it’s no laughing matter. Sickies are an expensive business. They are said to cost British employers £23 billion a year. The most popular reason for pulling a sickie is a hangover.

Grimmy’s Sickie

You may have heard it reported recently that Nick Grimshaw “Grimmy” (who fronts the BBC Radio One Breakfast Show) threw a “sickie” from his show because he had “lost his voice”. A legitimate reason for a radio presenter you might think?

Well, it was slightly undermined by the fact that he had posted a ‘selfie’ on Instagram over the weekend smoking a Hookah pipe in Istanbul. Also, various other photos appeared on social media showing just how much of a good time he was having.

Grimmy’s sickie highlights problems suffered by many employers. This is something that we get asked about a lot.

What can you do if you think someone is being dishonest?

First of all, if an employee phones in sick and they are not actually sick, this is clear dishonesty. Dishonesty can be classed as gross misconduct. This may entitle you to dismiss this employee without notice.

But what if the employee is not necessarily dishonest but the illness or injury is self-inflicted maybe from too much partying? Well, in that case, a lesser sanction may be appropriate.

Before you start disciplining and dismissing your employees, take note

Immediate responses should be avoided. Even where you think that the employee is bang to rights, you still need to make sure that you follow a fair process and follow your disciplinary procedure. Dismissals will only be fair if you have a fair reason and follow a fair procedure.

Also, it is really risky to just rely on what an employee’s social media profile says to accuse the employee of not really being ill. Yes, social media can be a useful tool to see exactly what an employee has been up to. But it’s not the be all and end all. Further investigation will be needed.

For instance, an employee may have been out enjoying themselves on the weekend. But they may be suffering from a mental health condition which does not have immediate physical consequences. This may genuinely be the reason that they have not turned up for work. This may be legitimate.

So, your first port of call should be your sickness absence procedure. Ideally, you will have the right to request the employee have a medical examination. If this is the case, you could utilise this sword in your armour.

If not, then you still may want to ask the employee to give you some medical evidence of their illness.

In any case, you need to make sure that you carry out a reasonable investigation. The evidence you have collected needs to be put in front of the employee and they need to be given an opportunity to explain themselves… All this before you make any decisions.

Good news

With the huge popularity of social media nowadays, it is now easier than ever before to see exactly what your employees get up to in their private lives. And to catch your employees out when they decide to throw a sickie.

There are things that you can do. Just remember the simple rule: Do not rely solely on what someone’s social media profile suggests.

If you would like any further advice on this topic or any other aspect of employment law, please do contact our Employment & HR team for a confidential chat.

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