GPS could make pulling a ‘sickie’ tougher

The best approach is to subtly talk to staff suspected of taking bogus sick leave, law firm advises

When computing and consumer electronics firm BenQ UK ran an advertisement claiming that bogus sick days would be more enjoyable with its technology (showing a man lying in bed watching the soccer world cup on his laptop), it got told off by the UK Advertising Standards Authority (ASA).

The ASA agreed with a complainant that the advertisement encouraged people to throw a sickie. The ASA’s decision seemed to ignore the fact that people who throw sickies hardly need encouragement to do so.

Richard Castellini, a senior career adviser for CareerBuilder.com, found that about a third of the workers in a survey called in sick when they felt well at least once during the previous year. The main reasons were the need to either relax or catch up on sleep. After that, running errands, doctor’s appointments, plans with family and friends and housework were next on the list.

Interestingly, almost half of employees had caught people throwing a sickie and 41% had been suspicious about the reasons give for sick days. Among the classic alibis was a man claiming to be poisoned by his mother-in-law, a man claiming to feel all the symptoms of his expecting wife and a man who said he had blown his nose so hard his back went out.

In New Zealand, a survey by the Sunday Star Times in 2005 found that less than half of the 10,000 respondents had thrown a sickie and half of those thought it was okay to do this (with younger people finding it more acceptable than older people).

Every New Zealand employee is entitled to paid sick leave (at least five days a year after the first six months of continuous employment and then five days more after every year).

People can take sick leave when they are sick or injured or their spouse or a dependent person is sick or injured and needs care. If someone is sick for more than three days in a row then their boss can ask for proof of sickness (or injury).

So if you’re an employer and suspect someone is faking a sick day, what can you do? According to a leaflet produced by law firm Bell Gully, employers can request a doctor’s certificate earlier than the usual three days if they “have reasonable grounds to suspect the sick leave is not genuine; they inform the employee as early as possible after forming this suspicion that proof is required; and they agree to meet the employee’s reasonable expenses of obtaining a medical certificate (or other form of proof).”

If the employee does not provide the proof then sick pay can be withheld for the period until it is provided.

An employer can also treat it as an employment relationship problem under the Employment Relations Act, following the usual processes “for raising, progressing and determining problems of employee performance.”

“A word of warning is necessary however,” Bell Gully says. “Do not jump to conclusions. A sensible approach to situations of suspected ‘sickies’, or where there is a regular pattern of sick leave, such as an employee who often calls in sick on a Friday, may be to discuss the issue openly with the employee and convey the concern or suspicion to them.”

To justify dismissal, an employer needs to show they carried out a full and fair investigation into the employee’s alleged wrongdoing, and that it was reasonable to come to a finding of serious misconduct.

“Some hope for employers who suspect an employee may be abusing their sick leave is provided by a recent Californian case,” says Bell Gully. “The boss of Monument Security was sitting at his desk when one of his staff rang in sick. His response to the employee was ‘if you say you are sick in bed how come you’re eastbound on 80 heading to Reno?’

“The not-so-sick worker had forgotten that his boss had installed a software program on all of his employee’s mobile phones so he could tell where they were by using GPS technology.”

If you are considering pulling a sickie you may want to check out the advice an experienced sickie faker has written up athttp://www.wikihow.com/Call-in-Sick-When-You-Just-Need-a-Day-Off.

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