Tummy ache, texts and trouble – the wrong way to report sickness absence

A survey of 2,000 business professionals in the UK has revealed that workers are using a broad range of communication channels, especially when delivering bad news.

The research, commissioned by Intercity Telecom, found that 38% of British workers have used email or text to inform their boss that they were sick and unable to work.

This is certainly easy for the worker but is it an acceptable thing to do? And are they damaging business relationships by doing so?

Theresa Mimnagh, Associate Director at Lawspeed said: “An employer does not want an employee at work whilst they are sick but they do need to be kept informed. In addition they need to know that people are genuinely unwell, so using email or text in this way may not be acceptable.”

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Trust will always be an issue in such cases and the shocking figures from the survey found that 20% of those who used electronic messaging to report being too ill to work admitted they were ‘pulling a sickie’ and felt too guilty to call their employer.

Mimnagh continued: “A phone call allows for questions and explanations, a proper assessment of any work that needs to be done in the employee’s absence and a handover, if required. It may also allow for an assessment as to whether the employee will be back shortly, whether long-term cover may be required and whether it is a contagious illness or something else which could affect other staff.”

Rules and procedures around sickness absence need to be clearly set out and applied in a consistent way.

A recent example in which text messaging was used involved a worker who had not turned up for work by 11 am one morning and colleagues were aware that he had been out at a party the night before. The office manager called the employee and woke him up. The employee claimed that he was ill and had already sent a text to his manager that morning, saying that he would not be in the office.

In this case an employment contract was in use which clearly stated that text and email were not acceptable methods of reporting sickness absence. Therefore the employer was justified in taking disciplinary action, without the need for any argument about whether the worker was genuinely ill or if a text message had really been sent.

Following a disciplinary meeting the employee was given a written warning, not for being absent from work or ‘pulling a sickie’, but for failing to follow proper company procedures.

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