Workshop: Personal Trainer

A member of staff has lots of one-day 'sickies'. It's a problem - can I discipline him?

Yes, you can. If his work's not getting done and this is causing a problem for others, you can - and should - take action. It's a misconception that you can't discipline staff, or even sack them, simply because they're ill. This may sound heartless, but if there's work to be done, someone has to do it.

But be careful. If your employee has a genuine long-term health problem it will need to be dealt with properly.

Long-term illnesses should be treated as capability issues, not disciplinary matters.

In your case, though, it sounds like your employee is adding to his holidays.

You need to get tough. You may be a charity but you are not providing a home for the work-shy.

Clearly the first step is to monitor the patterns of absences. Is he often sick on a Friday or Monday, especially around bank holidays? What are the reasons given for the sick days? If he's often absent for unconvincing reasons, or for no reason at all, the second step is to have a formal discussion. You need to alert your employee to the problem and explore whether there's an underlying reason for the absences.

Are your organisation's working patterns too inflexible? Perhaps he has family circumstances that make it difficult to juggle his home responsibilities with his worklife. Or it may be that he's dissatisfied in the job and feels frustrated at the level of responsibility or tasks. Can you provide extra support?

You will need to tell him you'll be keeping a close eye on the sickness patterns, and that if things don't improve you will consider taking further steps. Ensure he has to report to you immediately after any period of absence to explain why he's been away, and make sure you follow up any unexplained absences.

If this warning does not solve the problem, you can, as a last resort, consider dismissal.

Make sure you take this opportunity to review your sickness absence policies, making sure they're up to date. A good policy will be clear about when absences are permitted and what procedures should be followed, while reserving the right to take disciplinary action where the system is abused.

It's also extremely importance for us as employers to promote good health and exercise. According to the Wanless report, physical inactivity costs the UK economy more than£8bn annually, including lost productivity and absence caused by sickness.

Stephen Bubb is chief executive of the Association of Chief Executives of Voluntary Organisations (Acevo). Send your questions to: stephen.bubb@haynet.com.

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