They’ve refused my Holiday, so I’ll Pull a Sickie

An HR topic that frequently causes ‘office rage’ … when your employee phones in sick but isn’t really sick! Employees ‘pulling a sickie’ isn’t a new problem for employers and managers, but often the issue is left unmanaged or managed incorrectly, which will eventually have a detrimental impact on the business. Let’s take a look at what you can and can’t do if you employee keeps calling in sick.

The typical scenarios…

Holiday leave is requested and refused…

  • but the rumour mill has it that your employee is going to head off on their long weekend break anyway and intends to phone in sick.
  • and then lo and behold, without any advance warning, your employee goes off sick on the days they had originally requested as holiday.

Holiday leave is requested and agreed…

  • but the rumour mill has it that they intend to phone in sick on the day before their holiday as they are flying out that day.
  • but on their return to work your employee asks for the holiday time to be returned to them as they say they were sick whilst on holiday.
  • but your employee fails to turn up on their first day back and gossip has it that they were never going to be back today anyway.

The excuses employees give…

  • You can’t discipline me, because you didn’t discipline Joe Bloggs in x department when he did it.
  • Everyone does it and anyway I haven’t taken all my ‘sickie’ days this year.
  • You had no right to refuse my holiday.
  • You can’t prove I wasn’t sick.
  • My final written warning that I got for taking two weeks unauthorised leave last year has just expired, so you can’t fire me this time.
  • I was on holiday so it wasn’t possible for me to get a doctors note.

What managers often do…

  • Ignore it, as it’s more hassle than its worth to manage it properly.
  • Ignore it, as they are not sure of the correct process to follow or how to deal with it.
  • Feel as though their backs are against the wall as the employee is right, other managers let staff get away with it.
  • Wait until the employee has actually phoned in sick before dealing with the situation.
  • Fail to recognise patterns of repeat behaviour.

What managers can and cannot do…

With an employee intending to pull a sickie:

  • Before they pull their sickie, take pre-emptive action by asking to speak to them (in a formal environment) and ask them whether the gossip you’ve heard is accurate. Look them in the eye and don’t shy away from asking this question.
  • Remember it is both your right and responsibility to ask questions of your employee to ensure good staff management. Always better to let them know you are on to them before they commit an act of misconduct than deal with it after it has happened.

When an employee pulls the sickie:

  • If they still go off sick, ensure that they phone in and speak with you directly. Don’t accept messages to be passed onto you or voicemails.
  • If necessary, on receiving a message, call them at home to ask why they were not able to speak to you directly.
  • If they don’t phone in at all, phone them and ask where they are and why they haven’t called.
  • Instigate the disciplinary process, if they fail to follow the company’s absence reporting procedure.
  • Regularly remind staff of what the absence reporting procedure is so that everyone is fully aware and also what is required if they are sick whilst on holiday.
  • Don’t march round to their house, bang on the door and tell them they have crossed the line! There is a procedure to follow if you believe they have committed an act of misconduct… and this is not it!

With an employee who has unexpectedly pulled a sickie after holiday has been refused:

  • Hold a return to work (RTW) meeting and ask them whether they are feeling better, what their illness was – they may come clean!
  • At the RTW review their absence record and discuss the impact their absence (on the day the holiday was refused) had on their colleagues.
  • Ask them if they understand why the company might take the view that their sickness was not genuine.
  • Try not to directly accuse them of not telling the truth unless you have really clear evidence that this was the case.

With an employee who has been ill for 7 days or more and failed to produce the required doctors note:

  • A doctors note is required to authorise absence of more than 7 days, any failure to provide a note will mean that they do not receive statutory or company sick pay (note: different requirements may be included in your company policy on absence).
  • Don’t simply let payroll run salaries for absent staff, without the required evidence to sign them off. Are your payroll procedures robust enough?
  • If your employee doesn’t have a doctor’s note, they don’t have the right to transfer their holiday to sickness. It’s as simple as that!
  • Remind staff going on holiday that if they are ill and wish to reclaim holiday days, they will still need to see a doctor to get a doctors note. Being on holiday does not excuse them from this requirement.
  • Remind staff that self certification will still be required for sickness of less than 8 days. Failure to self certificate will result in sick pay being withheld.

With an employee who regularly pulls a sickie the day before, or the day after a holiday period:

  • Hold a review meeting with them to discuss the patterns in their sickness absence. Don’t shy away from clearly setting out what you believe their absence patterns are telling you i.e. that regularly taking a day’s sickness the day before/after holiday could mean that on those days they are not really sick.
  • Keep adequate records and notes so you have evidence to back up the pattern in absence and the fact that they always pull a sickie before/after their holiday.
  • Ask them to improve their attendance record particularly before/after a holiday and advise them that failure to do so will result in disciplinary action.
  • Remind them that you are monitoring their absence in the week running up to their next holiday period.
  • Don’t just ignore the issue and let them get away with it just because other managers would – deal with the matter.

Like what we do and how we do it? Please do let us know.

If you think you would benefit from additional support or training, take a look at our managing absence options or get in touch:

  • Absence management workshops that we deliver for you link.
  • Absence management training materials for you to deliver in house.
  • Managing discipline training materials for you to deliver your own training in house.
  • Writing or reviewing absence management policies.
  • Support at disciplinary meetings or with formal investigations.

The information contained within this article is for general guidance only and represents our understanding of employment and associated law and employee relations issues as at the date of publication. Jaluch Limited, or any of its directors or employees, cannot be held responsible for any action or inaction taken in reliance upon the contents. Specific advice should be sought on all individual matters.

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