Sickness: Can you be sure it’s genuine?

Dealing with employee sickness is a common issue for employers, as individuals will undoubtedly fall ill from time to time. However, on certain occasions employers may be forgiven for questioning whether instances of sickness are genuine or not.

A recent Com Res survey has brought into question exactly how much employers can trust claims of sickness at work, with 40% of workers admitting they would fabricate an illness if they needed a day off. The same study also revealed that 66% of employees would not inform their employer if they know that a colleague was faking a bout of sickness, making it much more difficult for managers to establish whether staff who claim to be sick are actually telling the truth.

These findings may naturally make employers suspicious of staff who claim to be too sick to attend work, especially if the individual has a record of requiring frequent, short-term, sickness absences. However, employers mustn’t jump to conclusions when an employee phones in sick without any substantial evidence.

Instead, a well-structured absence policy will allow organisations to respond to the situation correctly. Policies should include specific details on how staff are expected to notify the organisation about instances of sickness. Meanwhile, a commitment to conducting routine return to work interviews will reinforce the idea that sickness is treated seriously, whilst staff may be less likely to ‘pull a sickie’ if it means having to lie about their condition directly to a manager upon their return.

Although employers may be keen to take disciplinary action, this decision shouldn’t be taken lightly and sanctions should only be imposed if there is clear evidence to show that this illness was fabricated. Having said this, employers often believe they can take disciplinary action if an individual claims to be too ill to come to work, but is later found to be ‘well enough’ to attend a second job. Whilst this may raise suspicions, employers should consider that individuals may very well be ‘fit to work’ in one role but not necessarily the other.

For this reason many employers structure their absence policies in such a way that allows them to take disciplinary action when the number of absences reaches an agreed upon trigger point. The Bradford factor is one particular method which measures unauthorised absences, giving greater emphasis to sickness absences that are short-term as opposed to long-term. In these circumstances, warnings may be issued and the employee may be placed on an improvement plan.

However, employers should always consider those who suffer from a known medical condition that qualifies as a disability, as taking disciplinary action for absences related to their condition may qualify as discrimination. Instead, reasonable adjustments will need to be made in these circumstances, such as amending any usual absence trigger points, to ensure they do not suffer a disadvantage.

Suggested Resources