Ho, ho, no show! What to do when staff fake sickness over Christmas

Alan Price – Chief Operations Officer

November 29 2021

Picture this: you’ve got a non-stop day ahead of you and your worker calls in sick… nightmare.

And if you suspect your employee’s illness is a bout of last-minute Christmas shopping, you won’t want to be left in the lurch again. Especially now the busy festive rush is in full swing…

From covering shifts to disciplinary action, here’s how to handle fake sickness this Christmas.

First, cover your employee’s shift

To plug the gap, you might need to ask staff to cover the shift or work longer hours – and fast. And for an effective way to ask for overtime, consider offering financial incentives.

With double or even triple pay for overtime, staff could be happy to accept extra hours – especially during the costly run-up to Christmas.

If extra money is out of the question, you could consider offering extra time off in lieu of pay (TOIL).

This means you provide extra holiday in exchange for working overtime. For example, if your employee covers a shift that’s eight hours long, you could reward them with an extra eight hours’ leave on top of their entitlement.

Make sure you specify that staff can book this during a quieter period, and not during your mad festive rush.

But if staff can’t work overtime – due to factors like disability – be careful rewarding those who can, as this could cause discrimination claims.

Then carry out a return-to-work interview

Once your employee is back, a return-to-work interview helps you understand why they really called in sick.

Generally, holding a one-to-one means you can check your employee is safe to return. You can ask questions like:

  • What caused the absence?
  • Is this an ongoing or recurring health issue?
  • Did you see a GP? What did they say?
  • How are you feeling now?
  • Do you need any extra support at work?

But if you have a hunch your employee spent the day enjoying a mulled wine or two, it’s also an opportunity to check whether they were lying.

If your employee’s responses don’t quite add up, you could ask them to explain more. Otherwise, make a note of the event so you can spot a pattern if it happens again.

Either way, holding a return-to-work interview shows your employee you take sickness absence seriously. This means they’re less likely to fake sickness in the future, as they’d rather avoid lying to your face on return.

Consider disciplinary action for faking sickness

Whether it’s a picture on social media or you spot your employee in the pub, you could have evidence that your employee lied.

And depending on your staff contracts, this could mean they breached the rules of their employment – like fraudulently claiming sick pay or being dishonest.   

If that’s the case, you could issue an informal, verbal, or written warning. But before you do, be careful not to make any assumptions.

Because even if you spot your employee out and about, it doesn’t mean they’re fit and healthy. For example, they might be dealing with mental health issues. In this case, spending time with friends or going for a walk could be part of their recovery.

That’s why it’s important to understand the nature of your employee’s illness with a return-to-work interview.

Review your sickness policies

Without a robust sickness policy, staff might not even realise they’ve breached your rules. To remove any doubt, make sure your sickness absence policy covers:

  • How staff should report an absence, including who to contact and how much notice to provide.
  • Your rules around return-to-work interviews.
  • Staff sick pay entitlement.
  • How you track absence.
  • The consequences of not following the policy or faking sickness.

Once you’ve sorted your policy, share this around your team so there’s zero confusion around taking a sick day.

Track sick days going forwards

What might seem like a one-off event could be a well-established pattern. It could be that your employee has fallen ill on the 23rd of December for three years in a row. Or maybe your worker only seems to suffer migraines on a Wednesday…

But without keeping track, you could be none the wiser.

With software like BrightHR, you can record sickness and spot any patterns in an instant. This means you have solid evidence to raise with your employee if you suspect they’re faking sickness.

Reduce staff absence this winter…

Don’t resign yourself to struggling through the festive season with costly staff no-shows. Instead, take preventative steps to reduce staff absence this winter. By offering incentives and improving employee relations, workers are less likely to abuse their sickness leave.

Here are some ideas to boost loyalty and reduce absence over the festive season:

  • Offer extra pay or bonuses for working unsociable hours and over Christmas.
  • Provide treats and perks to create a fun workplace environment.
  • Host staff social events to improve co-workers’ relationship with one another.
  • Carry out regular one-to-ones to spot the signs of burnout.
  • Give staff access to an EAP to give them round-the-clock medical and wellbeing support.
  • Create a robust sickness policy to share with staff.

And if you’d like a HR expert to create watertight absence policies for you, give us a call on 0800 028 2420 or discover unlimited HR support today.

Suggested Resources