Urgent check-up needed to ensure sickness policy is fit for purpose
Published 14 June 2021
A tribunal decision that it was ok for an employee to go to the pub while signed off work sick may be considered funny by many, but it is no laughing matter for employers.
A 66-year-old driver won his case for unfair dismissal when he was sacked after being spotted outside of a club while off work sick.
The employment tribunal decision sparked much debate about what is acceptable when an employee is absent from work due to ill health.
In the case, the judge ruled that unless the employee had been specifically forbidden from socialising while ill, then he was free to do what he liked (1)
Now, the claimant is in line for compensation after the disciplinary process that led to his sacking was found to be unfair.
The investigation was said to be flawed for reasons that included, the same person who took the complaint then led the disciplinary hearing.
It was also found that the company was likely to have known that other employees had visited the same club when off work ill.
It is perfectly understandable that any employer would want to take action against an employee it may consider to be abusing sick leave.
But, what the case reinforces is the need to follow a fair disciplinary process in all cases, act consistently and fairly and establish all of the facts.
The ACAS Code of Practice on Disciplinary and Grievance Procedures provides basic guidance on conducting a fair disciplinary process (2)
The Code, which is taken into account by employment tribunals, sets out the main principles for handling disciplinary situations in the workplace.
While the ruling in the tribunal case can be considered a somewhat curious one, it should serve as a timely reminder for employers to review and update the company sick leave policy.
It is certainly worth doing after a recent survey revealed that despite the pandemic forcing many employees to work from home, the numbers taking days off sick appears to be going up.
According to the poll of one thousand employees, the average employee called in sick four times in 2020 – almost double the number of sick days taken in 2019 (2.6) (3)
The future regarding working from home remains unclear. At the time of writing lockdown restrictions appear as if they will be extended beyond 21 June 2021 (4)
The fact more people are now working from home – and may continue to do so for a while longer – does mean it is a good time to review the sickness policy.
Research has revealed that three in four workers said they were poorly managed working from home, which led to poor mental health (5)
Over four million employees are reported to believe their mental health has been ignored by their manager whilst working remotely.
Employees have reported the lack of mental health support, poor leadership, micromanagement and communication issues as the top struggles over the past year.
It should mean that reviewing and updating the current sickness policy is a priority in order to ensure that it includes provisions that make it appropriate to a new, more fluid, way of working.
Effective policies and procedures must grow and change. While the core elements of a policy may well remain the same, the details of how to make it happen need to adapt to the changes and challenges we all now face in the way that we work.
Regular policy review is essential and it is something every employer should invest time, energy, and resources into.
1 Driver sacked www.chroniclelive.co.uk [Internet] https://www.chroniclelive.co.uk/news/north-east-news/gateshead-driver-sacked-after-being-20774939 [cited14.6.21]
2 ACAS code of practice www.castleassociates.org.uk [Internet https://castleassociates.org.uk/employment-law-a-z/acas-code-of-practice [cited14.6.21]
3 Sick day stigma www.instanprint.co.uk [Internet https://www.instantprint.co.uk/printspiration/be-inspired/sick-day-stigma-revisited [cited14.6.21]
5 Working from home poorly managed www.dedlinenews.co.uk [Internet https://www.deadlinenews.co.uk/2021/06/03/a-new-study-shows-that-working-from-home-has-impacted-employees-uk-news/ [cited14.6.21]
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