What should an employer do if it suspects that an employee's reported sickness absence is not genuine and is due instead to them taking time off work to watch a football match?
Employers should be careful not to assume automatically that sickness absence during the World Cup, European Championships or other major events is not genuine. However, employers may have grounds to be suspicious about some employees, particularly where they have a history of short-term sickness absence. Where the employer has doubts about an employee's absence but there is no clear evidence to incriminate them, it should investigate further and question the employee when they initially report the absence and conduct a return-to-work interview. The employer should note absence patterns and ask the employee for an explanation. If the employer has a reasonable belief that the absence is not genuine, based on its investigations (perhaps because the employee has given evasive or inconsistent answers), it may take the matter further. Where there is evidence that the employee was not sick (for example they were seen in the pub watching a match), this will clearly be a disciplinary matter. Unauthorised absence and reporting absences as sickness when this is not the genuine reason are serious disciplinary offences that could result in disciplinary action.
To limit liability for disability discrimination and unfair dismissal claims, employers should ensure that they carry out a proper investigation, follow a fair procedure and do not jump to conclusions regarding an employee's absences, particularly where they have an underlying health problem.