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The Mysterious Case of The Dancing Tea Cake

Last week saw the opening of the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow. With over nine million viewers, one of the hits of the opening ceremony included dancers dressed as giant Tunnock’s tea cakes. One of these dancers was nursery worker Amy McIntosh. Her colleagues were astonished to see her taking part in the opening ceremony as she had been signed off sick from the nursery by her doctor. Undoubtedly she will have some explaining to do when she does return to work. This isn’t uncommon; there are many employees who say they are sick in order to have an extra day off. We call it chronic Monday-itis.

Although many employees have a bit more common sense than to appear on television when officially sick, they tell all their social media friends where they are and what they are doing, forgetting that an employer can also see this.

We see it a lot. Employees call in saying they are unable to come to work as they are not well. With those who are not genuinely ill a pattern may form. It may happen a couple of times every month, generally a Monday or Friday, giving the employee a long weekend, or either side of annual leave. It will always be a minor illness like a sickness bug, food poisoning or an unbearable headache, with no underlying medical condition. This is by far and away the biggest category of ill health absence. It may not seem like a lot, a day here and there but it soon adds up and often costs the business a lot of money. Everyone gets sick sometimes, that’s a given, but with most people who have no underlying ill health condition and take reasonable care of their health, they’ll only take about five days a year if that.

For every spell of absence, carry out a return to work meeting, even if the employee was only absent for a day. Unless exceptional circumstances apply, it shouldn't go through as unpaid leave or holiday as this will just mask a problem which needs to be dealt with. Note down the length of the absence and the reason the employee could not attend work. If there have been a few occasions write down the dates, including the day on which it falls. This is where tactics matters in HR. Don’t accuse the employee of lying and say you don’t think they were actually sick. We don’t know because we’re not doctors. Make the whole thing visible and call the employee to account. That’s what discourages causal absenteeism.

Show the employee the attendance record, stick to the facts and keep the language temperate: ‘Over the last three months you've had X number of days off. I notice that these have all fallen on a Monday. That seems a little unusual. Why is that?’ Sometimes employees will get defensive,

But it’s there in black and white to see. We’re simply concerned about the level of absence and wish to explore what we can do to ensure that they’re able to come to work. We then agree targets and confirm it all in writing.

There’s absolutely nothing wrong with asking people to take steps to look after their health so they can come to work. If you want to cure for chronic Monday-itis, give us a call. Managing absence starts with a robust set of terms of employment.

Summer offer – we’re offering a 20% discount on terms and conditions and employee handbook update for the month of August. If you’d like your documents updated so they’re not just compliant and up-to-date but reflect the HR Headmistress’ practical style, get in touch. Call 0845 644 8955 or email us.

Russell HR Consulting provides expert knowledge in HR solutions, employment law training and HR tools and resources to businesses across the UK.

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