23 March 2012
Employment law SOS: absence
We are rolling out a training programme to boost flexibility on the shopfloor. Most are enthusiastic but one team leader has called in sick on every day training was scheduled for him. What can we do if we suspect he's swinging the lead?
Here, there would be two approaches to put into place, the first being the company's sickness absence policy. It is normal for sickness policies to allow employees to self-certify for sickness absences of a less than a week, with a doctor's note only required for longer absences.
However, another clause is also commonly included in the sickness policy for situations where the employer is concerned about the reason for absence or frequent short-term absences. This permits the employer to require a medical certificate for each absence, regardless of duration, with the employer covering costs of any certificates for absences of less than a week.
It is important to go through the medical procedure first. On the face of it, regardless of your suspicions, the employee is claiming that the absences are due to illness and to jump straight in to disciplinary could well amount to a breach of the implied term of trust and confidence.
In any event, an informal 'return to work' meeting with the employee could nip the situation in the bud. Of course, there could also be other reasons for the absence, perhaps anxiety about the training itself, which a carefully-handled meeting of this kind could uncover.
If the employee is unable or unwilling to provide medical certificates, or if the medical certificates indicate that there was nothing wrong with the employee, and the absences continue, this is the time to implement the disciplinary procedure.
A fair procedure must be followed, including written warnings. If the employee's absences continue without good reason, and despite being warned of the consequences, dismissal will ultimately be a reasonable sanction.
Sara Sawicki, Pinsent Masons
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