We have almost all been there at one time or another. You have a “large” weekend so when Monday morning forces its way through the curtains the last thing you want to do is drag your hungover bones into work and face the world. For most of us though, if you do decide to take a “sickie”, it will not be front page news the following day.
Reportedly, Nick “Grimmy” Grimshaw, who fronts the BBC Radio One Breakfast show, took a sickie from his presenting job recently following a weekend on the sauce in Istanbul for the opening of the new Soho House. Grimmy told BBC bosses that he couldn’t make it into work “because he had lost his voice”. A reasonable excuse for a radio presenter, one might think, undermined by his having posted a selfie on Instagram over the weekend smoking a Hookah pipe by various other pictures of him on social media having what might delicately be described as a jolly good time. His bosses were reportedly angry that he called in sick on the very day they were announcing the line-up for Radio One’s Big Weekend concert in Norwich later this month.
Grimmy’s absence from the radio waves highlights a problem suffered by many employers, that of the short-notice sickie (the distinction between a sickie and a sick day of course being that on a sick day you are actually sick). It was reported by PwC last year that sickies cost British businesses £23bn a year with the most popular reasons for pulling sickies being hangovers (32%), lack of interest in your job (26%), job interviews (26%), and one that we can all relate to, Mondays (11%). One in ten people also cited “good weather” as a reason for taking a sickie though that really does appear to be clutching at straws in the UK.
What can the discerning employer do in these circumstances? If an employee phones in sick when he is not actually sick, clear dishonesty, this is an act of gross misconduct that could entitle the employer to dismiss him without notice. An early draft of the Louise Martin Guide to Misconduct (no takers for this as yet) would recommend that the employee tells the truth about why he can’t/won’t come in (“domestic crisis” for the interview, maybe) because even a very weak reason, if truthful, is unlikely to lead to dismissal for a first offence. Dishonesty, on the other hand, is a killer of trust and confidence and requires no prior disciplinary history. However, knee-jerk reactions should be avoided even in dishonesty cases and employers must still make sure that a fair process is followed in relation to any disciplinary proceedings.
This could also be the case if excessive partying or other self-inflicted injury renders the employee not fit to come to work after the weekend, although if there is no dishonesty involved, it may still be more proportionate to consider a final written warning.
The difficulty that most employers have traditionally faced in this scenario is obtaining the proof to back up their suspicions. In the age of social media where many people’s lives are documented by minute-by-minute updates including location details, photos and comments (inappropriate or otherwise), it is becoming easier to gather evidence of people’s sickies. We have seen an increase in cases involving people too foolish (or hungover) to recognise that posting updates evidencing their own deception of their employer may not be their best career move.
Whatever the case, care should be taken to carry out a reasonable investigation and to ensure that evidence is put to the employee giving him the chance to explain himself. Remember that the social media update may not tell the whole story or that the picture of someone seemingly out enjoying themselves (though irritating for the employer) is not necessarily incompatible with his claimed illness, especially if it is a mental health condition without immediate physical consequences.
Many employers also put in place incentive schemes like attendance bonuses for those who do manage to get into work on a regular basis (although beware of discriminating against disabled employees). There are downsides to such arrangements, however. Good attendance is part of the bargain the employee makes when he joins so should not really require extra reward. In addition, once you have lost the incentive for a given period, the likelihood is that you will stop trying for the remainder of it.