Ask Kate: I think my employee might be pulling a sickie to enjoy the sun. Help!

  • Leave and Absence
A woman confidently poses - caption above her says 'Ask Kate'
Kate Palmer FCIPD - Director of HR Advice and Consultancy at global employment law consultancy, Peninsula.

Kate Palmer, HR Advice and Consultancy Director

(Last updated )

Whenever a staff issue comes up, Peninsula advisers are on hand to help. There’s no query too big, too small, or too bizarre for our experts to unpack.

So, if you’re sitting on a query, don’t hesitate to ask. It’s what keeps our Peninsula clients safe and successful all year round and gives them the peace of mind to focus on their business.

This caller thought their employee might be faking sickness to make the most of the good weather. So, they asked Kate Palmer, Peninsula’s HR Advice and Consultancy Director, for expert advice.

Here’s what they had to say…

Hi Kate,

We’ve been enjoying some great weather recently – 27 degrees it hit the other day! I have an employee who’s been taking a few days off sick this month but conveniently they always seem to get ill around the weekend…My colleague also said they saw them post an Instagram story of themselves in a café with a friend on one of the days they were supposed to be sick.

I’m suspicious that they might be pulling a sickie so they can go and enjoy the sun, but I don’t want to start making accusations unless I can be completely sure. Any advice on how I should handle this?


Kate’s reply was…

Hi Anon,

Glad you’re enjoying some good weather on your end. When the temperature heats up, it can be a double-edged sword for businesses. But rest assured, you’re doing the right thing by approaching your suspicion with caution.

It sounds like something is definitely not right here. If your employee has had multiple recurring absences within a short time frame, it’s reasonable to assume that something else could be going on. But if it is, you’ll need to do some digging before you tackle it.

It’s a difficult position for you to be in because a healthy working relationship must be built on trust. You have to be able to trust your employee. So, if you think they might be breaking this trust and abusing sick leave, it’s important to follow the right steps.

“I have an employee who’s been taking a few sick days but conveniently they always seem to get ill around the weekend”

You mention that you’re noticing an unusual pattern of sickness around the weekend. My first question would be – have you been keeping a record of how many days off they’ve been taking and when? For example, do you have a trigger system in place?

The reason I ask is that it’s far easier to approach your employee when you have evidence to support you. You can tell your employee that your system has flagged up an unusual pattern of absences or by the rules of your sickness and absence policy, you’re obligated to bring it up.

When you can refer back to a policy or protocol, it’s less likely your employee will get upset about the accusation and take it as a personal attack – which could cause damage to your relationship.

“My colleague also said they saw them post an Instagram story of themselves in a café with a friend on one of the days they were supposed to be sick”

You mention your colleague has seen your employee posting pictures on social media and this has fuelled your suspicion.

What’s important to bear in mind is that just because your employee is out and about while on sick leave, it doesn’t automatically mean they’re lying about sickness. An employee may be unfit for work, but still be able to leave the house and do other activities.

So, this would not hold up as a fair reason to accuse your employee of pulling a sickie.

But even so, you don’t have to ignore your hunch. If you think something smells off, you have a right to address it. Just make sure you stay calm and professional when you do. I’m not saying you would do this, but if you react emotionally and start shouting at your employee in the meeting, they’ll probably just get defensive and shut down.

By approaching it delicately, you’re more likely to get to the root of the issue.

“I’m suspicious that they might be pulling a sickie so they can go and enjoy the sun”

If your employee is lying about sickness, it’s important to first consider that it could be for a genuine reason.

Perhaps, they’re dealing with a mental health condition they don’t know how to tell you about. Perhaps they’re feeling stressed and burnt out at work. Perhaps they’re finding it hard to bring themselves to come to work on a Monday morning.

I’m not saying any of these reasons are true. But my point is, there could be a wider issue at play here. So, try not to jump to the worst or most obvious conclusion.

When you ask your employee why they’ve had separate recurring absences this month, be sensitive about it. Try to make them feel comfortable and safe enough to share what they’re experiencing. Giving your employee an opportunity to give their side in this way is essential if you want to handle the situation fairly.

If you learn your employee hasn’t been attending work because of poor physical or mental health, it would be more appropriate to treat it as a capability issue.

And if the reason for the absences is to do with work, having a conversation gives you an opportunity to take steps to support your employee. Whether you need to help them manage their workload or rethink the tasks you’re giving them, the best case scenario is it helps you put a plan of action together.

Worst case scenario, there may be grounds for disciplinary action or even dismissal.

However, I wouldn’t recommend going down this road unless you have a reasonable belief that your employee has been taking time off work because of misconduct. You can’t just consider absence to be a conduct issue in itself. It depends entirely on the reason behind it.

So, to find this out you’ll need to do a full and fair investigation.

Consider how you’ve handled any cases in the past and what your policies say about sickness absence. Because ultimately, you’ll need to demonstrate your actions were reasonable in the circumstances if let’s say you were to take action against them and your employee raised a claim.

We cover a similar case in our blog: In the pub while off sick? What to do when staff fake illness if you want to take a read.

And if you’d like to get further advice on how to discuss absences with your employee and better manage and control absences with a policy, get in touch and we’d be happy to help.

All the best,


P.S. Got a HR query or staff problem? Click below to get a free advice call today.

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