Case study: Taking a sickie

ACCUSING an employee of ‘taking a sickie’ is a serious allegation. Practices should have a clear and documented sickness absence policy that is distributed to staff on appointment and shared regularly to ensure no interpretation issues.

BACKGROUND: PC Jonathan Adams told bosses at Gloucestershire Constabulary he was too ill to work as he was suffering from irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).

Adams then attended Royal Ascot for the day and was spotted by senior officers on Channel 4’s live coverage of the races. A disciplinary panel investigated other sick days the officer had taken and it was found that he had gone to horse racing events on those occasions too.

When challenged about these allegations, Adams said racing was “therapeutic” and helped him deal with a “toxic” work environment. His defence team claimed that Adams attended horse racing to alleviate his IBS and migraines. They also alleged that the Gloucestershire Constabulary did not have a modern attitude towards mental health and stated that Adams was a man of “impeccable character”.

OUTCOME: At the disciplinary hearing, detective sergeant Lisa Thorley said that “officers off work with stress would think it insulting to say it can be treated by a day at the races.”

A lawyer representing Gloucestershire Constabulary claimed that Adams had already been refused annual leave to attend the event and instead “was throwing a sickie to go horse racing”. The panel concluded that Adams should be dismissed without notice in order to maintain public confidence in the force.

If you suspect an employee is not genuinely ill or is exaggerating their illness then these concerns should be investigated, following the practice’s sickness absence policy. Make sure you treat each case on its own merits and look at the patterns and reasons for absence.

If disciplinary action is taken, ensure you take into account the employee’s statutory rights (for example, the right to be accompanied and the right to appeal). We would always recommend you seek advice as this element of the law can be particularly complex.

Further details can be found in our factsheets on short-term absence and disciplinary. Email employmentlaw@mddus.com