Sickness absence – what employers can and can’t do if they suspect staff of ‘pulling a sickie’

Mon 6th Feb 2017

The worst day of the year for sickness absence, the first Monday in February has been named National Sickie Day. Philip Sayers at Coodes Solicitors comments on what employers can and can’t do if they suspect staff are ‘pulling a sickie’ rather than genuinely ill.

While employers have to accept that anyone can get ill and may need to take time off work, it can be very difficult if a member of staff is regularly taking sick leave. High levels of absence can impact on productivity and the morale of the rest of the team. Legally, it is in fact very difficult to do anything if you suspect a member of staff is faking illness to get time off work. Having a good policy in place around sick leave, and not being afraid to challenge staff, can go some way to discouraging unnecessary time off.

What can I include in a policy?

Be sure that your staff know what the rules are around sick leave. Most organisations have a policy that staff should call (not text or email) before a certain time if they are unable to come into work. Some will not pay staff who fail to do this.

While most organisations will pay staff at their usual rate when they are off for a day or two, some companies don’t pay for the first three days’ sick leave. Having a return to work interview – even after one day’s sick leave –is a good way of bringing an employee up to speed with anything they have missed, as well as giving you the opportunity to ask them about their health. If someone has been away with a serious illness, the employer clearly should offer more than a quick chat. Acas has some excellent advice on supporting an employer who is returning to work after a long period of sickness.

Monitoring staff sickness absences

Companies should monitor absence so they can identify any patterns that emerge. This means alarm bells will ring if a member of staff is taking a very high number of days’ off sick, or is, for example, regularly calling in sick on a Monday. In these cases, employers are well within their rights to speak to the staff member and to ask questions about the reasons for their absence. Increasingly, companies are using social media to monitor their employees’ behaviour – if someone has taken the day off sick and then tweets from the pub, the employer will quite rightly want to ask questions.

Sending a staff member home

Employers may face a different set of problems if a particularly conscientious staff member is ill. He or she may choose to come to work, and employers may then have to turn them away – particularly if they work with food or drink. For staff in office jobs, the prospect of being away from work for even a day may be stressful and they may then want to work from home. In this case, it is important that both employer and employee are clear on whether the member of staff is working from home – and therefore can be contacted – or is off sick, in which case the day is recorded as sickness absence.

The key is for employers to have a good policy on absence, which all staff are made aware of. And for them to keep good records of absence so they can question any employees who they suspect may be pulling a sickie.

For more information on this or any Employment enquiries contact our Employment team on 01872 246200 or

Mon 6th Feb 2017

Related Services & sectors

Get in touch

Call us on 0800 328 3282, or complete the form below and we’ll get back to you as soon as possible.

This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

Search News & Events



Changes to Paternity Leave in April 2024: What do you need to know?

As of 6th April 2024, paternity leave will be changing to reflect a shifting attitude…

Read more


Suspecting a Power of Attorney of financial abuse: what can you do?

What steps should you take if you suspect someone is committing financial abuse as a…

Read more

Portfolio Builder

Select the legal expertise that you would like to download or add to the portfolio

    Download    Add to portfolio   

    Remove All


    Click here to share this shortlist.
    (It will expire after 30 days.)