It’s a tricky one; you’ve refused annual leave for an employee, and when the requested day arrives, they call in sick.
Of course, they could genuinely be ill, but you’re suspicious.
What can you do?
Take great care when addressing this with your employee, as you don’t want to get into a situation where you’re accusing them of lying without having any evidence to support your claim.
But there are definitely steps you can take to manage the situation.
Hold a return-to-work interview
When the employee returns, you should hold a return-to-work interview.
Ask the employee why they were unwell and check that they’re feeling better. You could ask them some follow up questions – did they seek medical advice or visit the pharmacy, for example.
If the employee had been away for more than 7 days, you can also request to see a Fit Note from the employee’s GP.
You’ll have to give the employee the benefit of the doubt here, but you could draw attention to the fact that you noticed they had gone off sick for a time period where they had originally requested and been refused leave.
You could warn them that you’re keeping an eye of their records, and that if you notice a repeating pattern of sick leave being taken after annual leave has been refused, you might have reason to begin a formal disciplinary process.
Hopefully, this will be enough to make the employee aware that their absence is being monitored, and prevent them from trying their luck again.
You’ve heard rumours your employee plans to ‘pull a sickie’
If you’ve heard on the grapevine that an employee intends to take call in sick after you initially refused that time frame as leave, think about where the information has come from. Is it a reliable source, is the information first or second hand? Are they prepared, if necessary, to make a witness statement? Even if this is the case, will you just end up with one word against another?
You can address the rumours directly with the employee. However, if the rumours are unfounded then they’re likely to feel very aggrieved. This may affect not only their relationship with you but also with their colleagues, particularly if you don’t or can’t reveal the source.
If you decide to take this route, ensure you have created a record of refusing the leave and tread very carefully. Remember that at this stage, the employee has not actually missed work and you are dealing with rumours.
What about when an employee doesn’t turn up on a day they’d had a leave request refused?
If your employee doesn’t turn up for work, and doesn’t call in to report sickness either, then this could be considered unauthorised absence which is a conduct issue.
You should follow your usual investigation procedure for this. Establish that they knew the correct absence reporting procedure and why they didn’t follow it this time, before deciding on potential action.
What about if you have evidence your employee wasn’t sick?
Let’s say your employee posts on social media with some holiday snaps, or to say what a great time they had at the gig or the match that you know happened to be on the day they had initially requested as leave. Provided, following an investigation, you show you have a reasonable belief that the evidence confirms that they weren’t really sick then you could have cause to take disciplinary action.
Similarly, if you have information which directly conflicts with what your employee told you in the return to work interview, then this may lead to disciplinary action.
Always give the employee a chance to explain themselves before taking disciplinary action.
Remember that employees are not required to remain in the house when they are off sick and with some illnesses, such as depression, they may be encouraged to get out and about by their medical advisers.
However, if the employee has told you they were stuck in bed for 24 hours with flu symptoms but are then seen at a football match, you will almost certainly have reason to proceed to a disciplinary.
Where you have evidence that an employee has deliberately lied about the reason for their absence, this may be viewed as gross misconduct.
Get HR Support
If you’d like professional guidance advice on a suspected incident of unauthorised absence, our HR consultants can help.
Our HR software will also alert you to any instances where an employee has gone off sick on a day they’d originally requested to take as holiday, helping you to keep tabs on any repeating patterns.
- Managing annual leave: A guide for employers
- Why you need an annual leave policy
- How to manage annual leave requests fairly
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