Having to deal with employee absence over the festive period can be a difficult task for employers, as absence levels are usually at their highest around this time due to the normal coughs, colds and flu.  However it can be a time for non-genuine absence; ‘pulling a sickie’ does become more a more common occurrence.  

To mitigate this problem from the outset, it is important that employees are aware of any holiday restrictions, company close down dates and how this affects their holiday entitlement ahead of time, so they can prepare and plan for this. Also ensure they are reminded of company holiday booking and approval procedures; if holiday requests are denied, employees will be expected to attend work, with the risk disciplinary action may be taken if sick notes or medical evidence aren’t available.

Employees must follow a set reporting procedure in line with company policy (this should be detailed in the company handbook or their contract), such as reporting their absence at least an hour before their normal start time, detail the nature of the absence and advise of a likely return date. If the absence is less than 7 days, they must provide a self-certification, and 7 or more days, provide a medical note from your GP or health practitioner. If the employee fails to follow this procedure formal action may be taken.

If you suspect an employee’s absence is not genuine, dealing with an absence at Christmas is no different to any other time of the year.

For example, an employee turns up late, or not at all following the Christmas party the night before, what should I do?

If you have doubts, but no clear evidence against the employee it should be investigated further, and you can question the employee when they initially report the absence, ask for an explanation and conduct a return-to-work interview. If there is a reasonable belief that, based on the investigation, the absence is not genuine, for example, because the employee has given vague or inconsistent responses or been evasive to questions, you may address the matter formally through your disciplinary procedure.

If you suspect an employee’s absence is not genuine, dealing with an absence at Christmas is no different to any other time of the year.

Where there is evidence that the employee was not sick (for example, there was a witness to the employee over-indulging at the party the night in question) this can clearly be deemed a disciplinary case. Unauthorised absences and reporting in sick when this is not the real reason can be considered serious disciplinary offences and may be dealt with accordingly.

To limit liability for any form of discrimination or unfair dismissal claims, we always advise employers should ensure proper investigations are conducted rather than jumping to any conclusions regarding sickness and absence, and a fair procedure is followed.

If you would like to discuss any of the above in further detail, please do get in touch.