What happens if a member of staff phones in sick, but they are later seen out at the shopping centre or down at the pub? Does it mean they’re skiving? 

Not necessarily. Employees who are ill are not necessarily confined to their beds. It’s worth remembering that not all illnesses incapacitate a person to the extent that they need to stay in bed or remain at home (this is particularly the case with conditions such as stress or depression). 

Colleagues are often keen to alert their managers to any perceived inconsistencies between another colleague’s absence and their behaviour while of sick, particularly if their workload has increased as a result.

Getting out of the house 

Being able to go and enjoy social events is not necessarily incompatible with an individual being too ill to work. 

Obviously, you will have questions for an employee if they are signed off sick with chronic back pain yet are seen gyrating on a dance floor or out jogging. 

However, it is not reasonable to ask the same employee to explain how they were able to go grocery shopping or go out for dinner. 

“Some health conditions may benefit from the individual taking exercise or getting out of the house. The employee may be following their doctor’s advice.”

Don’t accuse someone of lying 

Even if you have doubts if someone is genuinely ill, it’s important not to accuse someone of lying when you don’t have all the facts.

It’s good practice to have a procedure in place that requires all employees to phone in and speak to their manager if they are too ill to work, even if it’s only for one day.

Employees who are absent for over a week, generally have to obtain a note from their GP. The letter should set out the nature of the illness and how long the employee is likely to be off work. 

Employers are required to accept a fit note at face value unless they have convincing evidence that casts doubt on whether the employee is genuinely ill.

employee off sick

Return to work interview 

It’s also good practice to conduct a return to work interview with anyone who has been absent due to poor health after any period of illness. 

Employees should be asked to explain any inconsistencies between the reason given for their absence and any observed behaviour. Only if an employee cannot give a satisfactory explanation should disciplinary action be taken. 

The evidence is more likely to be in the form of social media such as Facebook. So, if an employee says they were too ill to come into work but they posted the fact they went out and got drunk the night before, it is legitimate to ask them about whether their illness was due to too much alcohol the night before.

If in doubt always seek expert HR advice to minimise the risk to your business. 

This HR advice clinic was written by Alan Price, Peninsula

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