Union ruled offside in Word Cup sickie row

Jun 15 2006 by Brian Amble Print This Article

One of Britain's biggest trade unions has unleashed a storm of protest after it offered advice to members on how to throw a sickie to watch England play in the World Cup.

In an article on its website, "World Cup fever - can you play away?", the Amicus union suggests that "it is quite difficult to prove that someone is not really sick if they have one day off; and most sick policies provide for the employee to self certificate for the first day off."

With over one million members, Amicus is the UK's largest private sector union.

And while it recommends that staff book time off to watch matches or make up the time in lieu, the article makes it clear under a subheading "what if you get caught?" that there are plenty of loopholes that employees can use to get around any disciplinary problems that may arise.

"Taking time off work without permission can lead to dismissal for 'gross misconduct'" and lying to your employer about your reason for absence might amount to gross misconduct to," the article states.

The suggestion that lying about illness might be wrong or unfair on others in the workplace is conspicuously absent from the Union's advise.

Instead, while "you must comply with any procedure for ringing in to notify of sickness" it adds that if absence procedures "does not make this clear", members "can argue that it is simply a form of misconduct which should be viewed in the light of your work record.".

A union representative "should be able to help you with your arguments and interpretation of procedures," it adds, although "if you have a few days off which happen to be match days your employer may will notice a pattern to your sickness which might be used as evidence that sickness is not really the issue."

In the light of this advise, it is hardly surprising that the article also makes clear that "Amicus is one union resisting a move to getting employees to ring an occupational health line where they have to speak to a nurse who will check their symptoms and may advise them they are not sick enough to be off work."

Challenged about the article on BBC Radio 4's Today programme, the Union's head of legal affairs, Georgina Hirsh, denied that it encouraged staff to lie in order to watch the World Cup.

"On balance the article is far from encouraging people to take sickies, and in fact we advise people that it's a big risk for them to do so," she said.

"I'm afraid the reality is - lots of people do take sickies whether it's for the World Cup or not."

Stephen Alambritis of the Federation of Small Businesses told the BBC that the union should remove the advice from its website.

"It's grossly unfair also on staff who are not football fans when they see a union advising their other colleagues to take a sickie, so it's grossly unfair on all staff in the workplace," he added.

"It will always be a gamble if you can't get your boss to play on the same team in the World Cup Watching/Work game," the article concludes.

But for any soccer fanatic tempted to catch a strategic dose of 'flu over the next few days, the publicity that Amicus has attracted with its misplaced advise has probably only stacked the odds against them getting away with it.