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24 November 2010

New survey shows employers cracking down on sickness absence

Against a background of recession and looming widespread job cuts many employers are tightening up their sickness absence procedures, while sick workers are increasingly reluctant to take time off for fear of being sacked or made redundant.

These findings are confirmed in the results of a survey of union reps and safety reps carried out by the Labour Research Department (LRD) In October 2010 to establish up-to-date information and trends relating to workplace sickness absence and sick pay procedures.

Many of the changes reported to LRD were designed to make sickness procedures tighter and in some instances, potentially harsher in operation. Examples of the kind of penalties reported include:

  • loss of up to the first two days of sick pay where absence target is not met (private sector: food manufacturing, print journalism);

  • cut in year-end bonus entitlement if individual sickness record falls below target (private sector: manufacturing, financial services, technology);

  • loss of contractual sick pay if an individual is off sick on more than three separate occasions in a calendar year (private sector: journalism);

  • loss of contractual sick pay once the employee reaches"Stage 2" of an absence procedure (private sector: fast food retail);

  • loss of contractual sick pay if off-sick for more than four days a year (local council);

  • loss of a proportion of a six-monthly attendance bonus and annual profit share (private sector: technology);

  • managers setting"zero absence" targets (private sector: financial services);

  • cut in Christmas bonus (construction: private sector); and

  • cut in wages by one Grade for a maximum of six months following more than three absences in any rolling 12-month period. (construction: private sector).

The survey results have been used to illustrate a detailed new LRD guide, Sickness absence and sick pay - a guide for union reps, which also examines the rise of "presenteeism" (coming into work when ill), the debate over public and private sector absence levels and the need to uncover the underlying causes of sickness absence, as well as absence management policies, changes introduced as a result of the new Fit Note and employees' rights to sick pay.

The booklet also looks at special circumstances that regularly occur in relation to sickness absence, such as pregnancy sickness and sickness related to a disability, focusing in particular on the impact of the Equality Act 2010. It also contains information about changes to the law governing sickness absence and holidays.


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