As I sit in my office missing out on enjoying the warmest  weather possibly since 1976, it reminds me that businesses risk lost productivity and operational disruption as staff take “sickies” to enjoy the summer weather.

In a real heatwave, productivity can drop by up to a third as temperatures soar. It is expected that during a hot weather snap hundreds of thousands of workers will take at least one “sick” day.

It is an accepted economic fact that in the UK, hot weather results in lost productivity. Also during hot weather, employees are more likely to arrive late and leave early, further adding to the cost and loss productivity business faces during sunny weather.

What can employers do to deal with this problem?

Employers must communicate effectively with their employees, stating clearly that phoning in sick to spend a day in the garden or at the beach is totally unacceptable.  Also, the procedures for requesting leave and reporting sickness should be well publicised. It is also appropriate to give staff a timely reminder that persistent intermittent absence and ‘unofficial’ time off will be dealt with via the disciplinary policy.

It is important that the employer has good robust systems for monitoring and recording sickness absence, work patterns and annual leave. There is likely to be a sudden increase in leave requests, or to work different or more flexible work patterns.  If these requests can’t be granted, then they need to be dealt with reasonably, fairly and consistently.

Using the disciplinary procedures

Employers can discipline employees for intermittent, short term, unrelated absences, even if the reasons are genuine. Again, it is critical that the records are accurate and that the calculations using absence triggers or Bradford factor scores are properly recorded and accurate.

If an employer suspects an employee of throwing a “sickie” i.e. taking a day of on sick leave when not genuinely ill, they need to keep an open mind when conducting the investigating. It is important to establish that there is no underlying medical cause and that the intermittent absences aren’t result of a disability (as defined by the Equality Act 2010). It is also important that the employer has a reasonable suspicion that someone has not been genuinely ill before invoking disciplinary procedures.

Once the process starts, an investigation must be conducted and evidence gathered. The employee must be given a proper opportunity to respond to the case against them, to put their side of the story, before a decision is made and a disciplinary sanction is imposed. In keeping with the requirements of the ACAS Code, the employee must be allowed to be accompanied at the disciplinary meeting and be allowed to appeal against the disciplinary sanction.

What to do

Remind employees that summer is on its way, and that, if they haven’t already they should book some annual leave so they can enjoy the summer weather.

Remind employees that if we get a sudden “heatwave” wherever possible leave requests will be met. However, the major consideration will be meeting the business need.

It is worth reminding employees that ‘throwing a sickie’ constitutes unauthorised absence and may result in disciplinary action being taken.

Where possible, offer some flexibility, so that employees can take extended lunch breaks, swap shifts, take unpaid leave or temporarily change their hours.

This news item was posted by Sean McCann Managing Director of People Based Solutions. An HR Consultancy specialising in managing the HR function on behalf of small and medium sized businesses.  If you want to know more about how they can help you manage and monitor your work force attendance at work contact us at: enquiries@peoplebasedsolutions or ring direct on 01925 425 957