Clearly this happens in most businesses; an individual tries to book time off work yet due to the nature of the business they are unable to secure the necessary time off so employees revert to unauthorised sickness. Check to see that your HR documentation and policies reflect rules regarding falsely claiming sickness – particularly if this includes the payment of occupational sick pay, if in doubt contact Peninsula.
You need to have reasonable suspicion that the employee has committed an act of misconduct and to do this, an element of investigation will need to take place. Conduct a return to work interview, as should be the normal practice with all sickness absences. This will give you the opportunity to probe the employee on the reasons for their absence. Conducting a return to work interview will help deter fellow employees and shows that you take absenteeism seriously.
Try not to pre-determine the outcome of your discussions with the employee and if there is sufficient evidence to show that they were actually sick on the day in question e.g. they were clearly already suffering from their illness the day before the first day of their absence. However, an important point to note here is that you do not need absolute proof that the employee had lied to you and was not sick on the day in question; you only need to have reasonable belief, again if in doubt call our Advice Service for clarification. It is the questioning of the employee that can help you reach the reasonable belief that the absence was not down to legitimate sickness.
The reality of this situation is that the employee may have lied to you and this can impact on the implied term of trust and confidence that is a necessary element for the employee-employer relationship to continue. You have refused the annual leave request for a reason – maybe you had already reached the cap of allowance holiday leave on that day and therefore the absence would impact on the efficiency of your business on that day, and the employee may have willingly exacerbated your predicament. Severe breaches of this term of trust and confidence can result in the employee’s dismissal. However, it is doubtful whether dismissal for the first offence would be appropriate where the employee has 2 or more years’ service with you i.e. is able to claim unfair dismissal at tribunal. Again seek advice from us for clarification.
Ensuring that employees are dealt with appropriately in this situation will send out the message that you take ‘fake’ sickness seriously and potentially deter this employee and other employees from doing it in the future. Consistent return to work interviews after all absences is a key element to this because having to face you and explain the details of their ‘illness’ – and lie through their teeth – may seem too high a price to pay for the benefit of having a day off. As I mentioned earlier return to work interviews are essential and can act as a sufficient deterrent.
For more information and advice on dealing with absenteeism issues then call Peninsula on 0844 892 2772.