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Survey brings into question how much organisations can trust claims of sickness at work.

A Com Res study has revealed that 40 per cent of workers would fabricate an illness if they needed a day off, which may cause organisations to think twice next time they have an employee who claims to be too ill to make it to work.

The same study also revealed that 66 per cent of employees would not inform their organisation if they became aware that a colleague was faking a bout of sickness, making it much harder for managers to establish whether absent staff are telling the truth or not.

Separate studies show that UK employees take an average of 6.9 sick days’ each year, and although organisations will naturally want to ensure staff are being honest when phoning in sick to work, there is often no way of knowing how many of these are genuine

Whilst it is hard to control employees’ actions, having a clear policy on sickness, which details how employees are required to notify the organisation, may prove beneficial. Conducting routine return to work interviews will also show that bouts of sickness are treated seriously, whilst employees may be less likely to take a ‘sickie’ if it means having to lie about their condition directly to their manager upon their return.

Organisations are also more likely to be suspicious of individuals who take frequent short-term sickness absences, especially if these appear to be ‘scheduled’ on purpose so they are able to take advantage of a long weekend.

Although it would be inappropriate to jump straight to a disciplinary without clear evidence, a well-structured policy will allow organisations to take disciplinary action where the level of absence reaches an agreed upon trigger point. In these circumstances, warnings may be issued and the employee may be placed on an improvement plan.

Having said this, it is important to remember that a disability or other underlying conditions can result in short term absences. Therefore, organisations must make reasonable adjustments where necessary, which could include amending any absence ‘trigger points’ to accommodate for disabled staff.

Organisations who fear they have an issue with staff ‘pulling sickies’ at work may also want to look at any workplace factors that may be contributing to this. Fostering an open and honest working environment is likely to encourage staff to report any issues in the first place, and organisations should respond to any complaints of bullying or harassment without hesitation, as these can make staff hesitant to attend work.   

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