A gold medal for skiving

With the Games now in full swing it is predicted 4.8 million of the British population will “call in sick”  over the Olympics. A 2000 person sample used by littlewoods.com confessed they may even take up to four or five fake sick days throughout the games. London will be the worst affected with 1.2 million of the overall 4.8 million planning to miss a day in the office.

Employees may pull a sickie because they have obtained tickets in the last ballot and have missed the deadline for requesting holiday.  Others may simply feel a bit ill and use this as an excuse to watch the games at home.

Boris Johnson spoke out on London Radio Station LBC saying that the Games was not an

“excuse for pulling a sickie” or “a skivers charter”.  He went on to say “I don’t want the whole City turning into a gigantic Olympic sickie”

If these statistics are correct, the cost of employee absences due to “Olympic fever” will be significant.

The government’s answer to preventing absence and to avoid congestion on public transport is for more people to work from home. In fact, many organisations in the public and private sector have opted to allow staff to work from home, including Civil Servants working out of Whitehall. However, that can have its own problems with productivity of staff. For example, there are concerns that there will be a reduction in government work as Civil Servants are allowed work from home, causing backlogs.

In the same LBC radio interview the Mayor said “Some people will see the Games as an opportunity to work from home, in inverted commas”. His comments went against Transport for London’s campaign to get a third of commuters working from home during the Games. Mr Johnson went on to say even though that it would take commuters longer to get into work, he insisted it was still the best option for the economy.

With so much conflicting advice from the government, what should employers do to ensure a productive workforce during the games?

To combat absences, employers may want to discourage employees from taking unnecessary sick days by simply reminding everyone of the company sickness absence and disciplinary policies or going a stage further by making sickness absence reporting procedures more stringent during the games: employers could request a doctors note for shorter absences, hold return to work meetings and require employees to telephone their line manager to report their sickness. If employers decide to do this, employees should be informed of the changes to the policy during the games and it may be useful to remind employees at the same time that any unauthorised absence or taking genuine sick leave will be dealt with under the firm’s disciplinary policy.

Further useful steps which have already been considered by many employers are:

  • flexible working (reduced hours or varying start and finish times)
  • allowing employees to work from home where appropriate, especially if transport is particularly tricky for certain members of staff
  • allowing employees to watch the events at work on their PCs or at various times of the day or in communal areas
  • encouraging staff to take holiday throughout the games and being flexible with holiday requests where staff receive tickets at the last minute for events

Inevitably, there will be some staff who seek to take advantage of the games despite best efforts from their employers. In these situations, employers will need to address incidents of unauthorised absence or short-term sickness under existing employment policies.

However, employers should also take care not to assume that employees are pulling a sickie because some employees will be genuinely ill during the games. Where an employee has complied with the sickness absence procedure, the best approach to avoid any allegations of discrimination is to meet with the employee when they return to work to discuss their absence to establish whether their illness is genuine before taking any further action.

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