Fear of litigation halting action on absence

Jan 03 2006 by Brian Amble Print This Article

Fear of litigation by staff has reached such a point among small businesses in the UK that a quarter feel unable to take any action against staff who feign illness to take unauthorised time off.

A survey by Employment Law Advisory Services (ELAS) has found that almost nine out of ten SMEs would discipline their workers for throwing "sickies if they were legally confident to do so.

But one in four SMEs has far more staff throwing sickies than it has taken action against.

"Many companies these days are so convinced that employment law is weighted on the side of employees that they are afraid to tackle what are serious issues in the workplace," said Peter Mooney, head of consultancy at ELAS.

"This survey shows that for a large number of businesses, that means suffering at the hands of lazy workers rather than face up to issues such as excess absenteeism.

"They are so scared that they will end up in court for tackling an issue head on, that they sit back and suffer when they don't need to."

ELAS surveyed 600 small businesses about their attitudes towards absenteeism and found that just over a quarter had significantly more staff whose attendance was a "serious problem" than they had taken action against.

Yet almost nine out of 10 (88 per cent) per cent of firms claimed they would tackle lazy staff if they were confident what they were doing would not result in an expensive tribunal.

But ELAS says that it has a new weapon to wield against staff who regularly fall ill only on Mondays and Fridays.

Lawyers at the firm have devised a software package which not keeps a record of workers' sick days and alerts managers when absenteeism levels become a problem.

For example, it can identify patterns in their absence, singling out those people who only fall ill, for example, on Mondays or Fridays.

Crucially, it then guides employers through the legal minefield and guides them on the correct disciplinary procedures to take.

"The does not wait until you have a problem. It will spot the issue for you, and tell employers what is wrong and what they need to do to put things right." said Peter Mooney.

"That way, employers needn't be scared to act when there is an issue, but can relax knowing that they are complying with the law at all times."