“The question isn’t what are we going to do. The question is what aren’t we going to do” Ferris Bueller

Debbie-Haskell-150x150Over recent months it would appear that even celebrities are not immune to taking a leaf out of Ferris Bueller’s book and having a “sickie” from work. Maybe they don’t go to such great lengths to hide their deceit or create such mayhem but none the less they are just like the one-third of British workers who admit to having “pulled a sickie”, according to research by professional services firm PwC. Danny Dyer’s daughter revealed he “lays around on the sofa all day” when he should be working. Zayn Malik left a gig early and was then seen jetting off to LA a couple of hours later and most recently, Nick Grimshaw had a heavy weekend partying and told his bosses he couldn’t make it in (let’s hope he takes his new X Factor role more seriously) .

The cost to UK businesses of these unauthorised days off is around £9 billion per year, a sizeable portion of the £23 billion per year that sickness absence costs as a whole.

The most popular reasons for taking time off, according to the survey of more than 2,000 adults, are hangovers (32%), being bored by their job (26%) and interviews with another employer (26%). One worker in nine (11%) said they had lied to enjoy the good weather, while 8% had done so for a sporting event. Just over one in 10 had phoned in sick because it was Monday.

Some of the imaginative excuses given for missing work were:

“I’ve accidently locked myself in the bathroom and I have to wait until someone with a key to the house can come round to let me out.”

“I’ve accidently sent my uniform to the charity shop so I need to go and buy it back.”

“I thought it was a bank holiday and I’m 500 miles away.”

“I missed the stop on the train this morning and I can’t get off the train now until London.”

For employees who need a helping hand to wax lyrical as to why they have not turned up, a new Android app, Skiver, can help users pull a sickie. The app allows would be skivers to select how many days off they are looking for and provides a selection of plausible illnesses along with a list of the relevant symptoms to dupe their boss. The app even provides an email which can be sent directly to the user’s boss notifying them of the absence. Once their cover story is in place it even provides the user with suggested activities in their area to so they can make the most of their extra time off.

So what can an employer do if they feel one of their workforce is “swinging the lead”? Clearly if an employee phones in sick and is not actually ill then this is dishonesty and potentially an act of gross misconduct and following a disciplinary hearing could result in their dismissal without notice. If the employee tells the truth about why he can’t/won’t come in even a very weak reason may not lead to dismissal for a first offence. It may be more appropriate to consider some sort of written warning having regard to any mitigating or extenuating circumstances. It is the dishonesty which results in the employer losing all trust and confidence and feeling badly let down.

As it is now commonplace for people to document every moment of their existence (including their sleep patterns) on social media, employers are more likely to have evidence that such short notice and short term absences are either self inflicted or not genuine. It’s not just celebrities who can get caught out by a stray photo, public comment or “check in”. They may not even realise that a friend or associate had “tagged” them at an event or in a photo providing public evidence of the employee’s deception.

Employers must make sure though that a full and fair investigation is done followed by a disciplinary hearing even where the employee appears to have been clearly dishonest. Any evidence should be put to the employee to allow him the opportunity to explain and put forward any defence so that the employer has a full picture before making the decision. It must be remembered that the social media update may not tell the whole story. A novice may have uploaded an old photo by mistake or tagged the wrong person in their status. That picture of someone having a night out may not necessarily be incompatible with his claimed illness, especially where they are suffering from a mental health condition. They could even have been advised by their doctor to socialise and get out and about more.

So with the weather warming up (possibly) and the sporting calendar chock-a-block what else can employers do to combat “duvet” days? Some employers have incentive schemes like attendance bonuses for those who do manage to get into work on a regular basis (although care should be taken to prevent discriminating against disabled employees). Some officially give their employees a couple of days holiday a year which can be taken at such short notice.

A business owner in Australia has come up with a novel way to counter the high number of sick days taken when the big swells hit by giving his staff “surf breaks”. Mr D’Arcy says that “The employees make up the hours they missed out on and they are far more energised after a good surf”.

There are probably not many areas of the UK that this would apply to but if a big sporting event is coming up or even a child’s annual sports day, businesses might find that allowing staff the flexibility to partake when possible, their productivity and general sense of well being improves. This benefits everyone and has the advantage of employers being forewarned so that they are able to manage the planned absence more easily than unexpected last minute no shows.