I have just read an excellent article from solicitors Ellis Whittam on dismissing employees who ‘pull a sickie’. However, it is important to see dimsissal as very much a last resort. In my experience, there is usually much more to this sort of absenteeism than meets the eye. It is sometimes caused by indolence or poorly managed personal life, but it is often caused by something connected to the workplace. This makes it critically important for an employer faced with persistent short-term absenteeism to explore carefully the underlying reasons for the absences.
This can be a very difficult conversation to have because the employee may have some intensely personal reason that they feel embarrassed or uneasy about sharing. However, for the reasons given in the article it can be important to the fairness of any subsequent dismissal to find out what the reason is. For instance, one of the classic reactions to being bullied or discriminated against at work can be persistent short-term absenteeism caused by the employee being unable to face coming to work. Dismissing an employee in these circumstances can easily expose an employer to some form of discrimination claim as well as a claim for unfair dismissal. Similarly, the frequent illnesses might be connected to some physical aspect of the work, such as poor lifting or handling of items in the workplace or excessive workloads. Such issues need to be carefully explored and resolved where possible, especially if there is any potential criticism of the underlying working practices.
The resolution of these frequent absence issues can often be much cheaper than following a dismissal process with attendant risks of litigation and necessary costs of recruiting a replacement. For SMEs the cost of recruiting replacements can be eye-wateringly high and much more expensive than the cost of finding a resolution to the issue that might allow the employee to be retained – see our recent blog post on retaining employees and saving money
Training managers to have those potentially difficult conversations with employees with an absenteeism problem is an important part of dealing with these issues. Once the true reason has been discovered, Workplace mediation may also help to find solutions that will avoid dismissal, such as introducing some form of flexible working or identifying steps that could be addressed within the workplace to remove or reduce the risk of future absences.
Read the full Ellis Whittam article here