Supermarket giant Tesco is adopting a radical approach towards sickness absence by abolishing sick pay for the first three days taken off.
After three days, staff will be able to claim sick pay but will not be compensated for the previous days.
Tesco is making the scheme compulsory in two new stores and voluntary in some existing ones. And it added that part of the trial would involve looking at how staff who are off ill for less than three days can prove they have actually been sick.
Other schemes under consideration by Tesco offer rewards for good attendance or give staff more holiday allowance but reduce it when they take a day off sick.
The sick-pay scheme already operates in Tesco's Irish stores, where it says that absenteeism rates are lower.
Sick leave is estimated to cost UK businesses £11billion a year and research has found that more than eight out of ten workers feign illness at least once a year to skip work. But the timing of Tesco's announcement is also significant, coming just weeks before the start of the Euro 2004 football championships in Portugal.
"We are looking at what we can do to reduce unplanned absence, which is a real problem because it has a knock-on effect on staff and customers," said a Tesco spokesman.
“It’s a trial to see how we can reduce unplanned absenteeism,” he added “We are looking at how we can encourage people to plan absences. We don’t want to penalise people who are genuinely ill. We want to discourage people taking the odd day off."
"Rather than just ring in sick because staff have to take their child to the dentist or whatever we will bend over backwards to take that into account in a planned way."
Rival supermarket chain Asda has already adopted similar sick-pay rules for its for hourly-paid staff.
The Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers (Usdaw), said that they backed the scheme.
"Absenteeism is a massive problem for companies,” said Usdaw's Kevin Hegarty. “Tesco is obviously looking at ways of dealing with the issue.”
But the Transport and General Workers' Union (TGWU) was less happy about it. Pauline Doyle, of the TGWU said: "This seems very harsh, particularly in an environment where they aim to recruit flexible workers. It doesn't send out a strong message about fair treatment.
"These people are working hard for an extremely profitable company and you would expect some of those rewards to drip down to the workers. Instead the message is that they do not value their workers."