Staff increasingly go to work ill rather than risk job security, a CIPD report suggests. With attendance increasingly used as a redundancy selection criteria it’s an unfortunate sign of the times
A culture of “presenteeism” appears to have crept into the workplace. This was highlighted in a report from the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD), which showed that over the past year almost a third of employers said they had seen an increase in the number of staff who turned up to work unwell. At the same time the average number of sick days taken by workers dropped from 7.7 days in 2011 to 6.8 days in 2012.
The report suggested staff are increasingly going to work when they are ill rather than risk their job security against a background of redundancies in the workplace. Pulling a “sickie” may have been put on the back burner – at least for now.
But are these concerns well founded? Yes, they are. Many employers will use staff absenteeism as one of the selection criteria for determining who is to be made redundant. Indeed, the CIPD report highlighted that half of those they polled used their workers’ “employee absence record” when deciding who to get rid of.
It is, though, a difficult one for employers and employees alike. If you are genuinely ill, are you doing your employer and work colleagues a disservice by coming into work and possibly spreading your germs, all in the name of commitment? This is without even considering how productive you are likely to be and whether you might make mistakes in your work. These concerns were also highlighted in the CIPD report.
The study also found that stress-related absences and mental health problems were on the rise. I can well believe this. I have seen a significant increase in inquiries in the past year from employees suffering from work-related illness, largely caused by either being overworked or because of dire relationship issues with their managers. In many cases, those suffering with stress have already been put on a “performance improvement plan” by employers increasingly striving to maximise their workforce in this economic climate.
If you are suffering with work-related stress the concept of “presenteeism” is less likely to apply to you. How can you present yourself for work in the very environment that is causing the stress? And yet, you could find yourself out on a limb in a redundancy selection process where your scorings will be adversely affected by your being absent.
In these circumstances, you are best advised to protect your position by lodging an internal grievance against your employer as soon as you can, or by challenging your performance improvement plan – in both cases as long as you believe you are justified in doing so. This means if you are subsequently selected for redundancy you will have put down a marker beforehand. Your employer will not have a “clear run” to use your absenteeism as the main reason for your redundancy, because issues will have been raised by you beforehand.
Of course, whether or not you agree with your employer about your performance issues, it is always possible to negotiate an exit under which you would leave with an agreed settlement package. Indeed, these types of discussions are being encouraged by the government as part of its employment law reforms.
It is perfectly understandable why those who are at risk do not want to give their employers an opportunity to use their sickness record against them, whether in terms of a redundancy selection or otherwise. It is a shame for those workers who are genuinely ill, however, that they feel they have to struggle to work nevertheless. It’s definitely a sign of the times.
Have you ever gone into work when you were ill, and was your boss grateful? Or have any of your work colleagues come to work unwell when you wish they hadn’t?
• Philip Landau is an employment lawyer with Landau Zeffertt Weir Solicitors
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