A recent UK survey of small and medium enterprises (SMEs) has revealed that 60% of bosses do not believe their staff when they call in sick. Furthermore almost 40% of employers admitted that they check the social media profiles of staff they suspect are not genuinely ill and 25% would have a colleague call and check up on employees they think are “pulling a sickie”. On the other hand the survey revealed that nearly 50% of employees are nervous about calling their boss, even when they are genuinely ill.
What do you think? Are employers overstepping themselves by checking up on their staff? Or are their actions justified considering the costs that sick or absent employers create for SMEs? It is certainly a sensitive subject for employers and employees alike and at a time when most SMEs are feeling the pinch, it can cause serious tension in the workplace.
So what should employers do when they suspect their employees are not genuinely sick? And what rights do employees have to be taken at face value?
The most important thing for any employer is to have a sick leave policy in place and ensure that your employees are aware of it. It is up to the employer to decide their own policy and the contract of employment should clearly state your policy regarding sick leave.
There is no requirement for employers to pay for sick leave unless you say so in your contract of employment. If you do not pay sick leave, employees can claim Illness Benefit from the Department of Social Protection.
A sick leave policy should outline the notification requirements, who the employee should contact and specify any time constraints, eg by 9am.
You can require employees to provide medical certificates. You can specify at what point they are required (eg after 3 consecutive days) and it should state when the employee will be fit to return to work. For longer term sick leave, regular medical certificates can be required.
We advise our employer clients to have a return to work interview where the employee has to meet with his/her superior/line manager after any absence to explain the reason for their absence and to ensure that they are fit to return to work. It has been shown that absenteeism falls dramatically when employees know that they will have to attend a return to work interview.
If you do pay sick pay, it is prudent to limit the period of sick leave entitlement, eg 3 months in 2 years.
In reality, good communication and relations between employers and employees is the key. Ensure your employees understand the sick leave policy and the impact absenteeism can have on a business. If employees suspect you are checking up on them, it can undermine the entire working relationship. However, fostering goodwill and trust with your employees can go a long way to ensuring that they do not take advantage of the sick leave policy.
If you have any questions regarding sick leave policies, give our employment solicitor, Helen Coughlan, an email at firstname.lastname@example.org