Workshop: Personal Trainer

Sickness absences are rising, so I am considering doing a "Tesco". Are there any legal problems?

Think carefully. This is taking a sledgehammer to crack a nut. Recently, Tesco followed Sainsbury's in introducing a new sick pay scheme whereby staff are not paid anything for the first three days of sickness. Companies such as British Airways are thinking of following suit; other companies do not pay anything on the first day of sickness.

Sickness absence can be a problem. The Confederation of British Industry says £11bn is lost annually from such absence. The public sector's record is worse, although smaller organisations do better than larger ones.

Let's not become too starry-eyed. We all know the problem with "sickies" - those mysterious illnesses that beset people on Fridays, the "upset stomachs" at Christmas shopping time, the long weekends coinciding with sports events.

I remember from my local government days when people talked about their "sick leave entitlement".

There is no legal requirement to pay for sickness absence. There is a statutory sick pay scheme where payments are made after three days and organisations can claim 80 per cent of the cost back from Government.

But I suspect many third sector bodies have a sick pay scheme built into their conditions of employment and so these would be contractually enforceable.

That is not to say that if you have a problem you should not renegotiate the scheme.

Do you really want to remove payments from people who are genuinely ill?

If someone has got a heavy cold, then do you want to have them at work where they mope around and infect others?

The answer lies not in draconian measures like those of the supermarket chains but in effective monitoring procedures, with action taken on malingering.

Do you have a system for recording all staff sickness absence and then reviewing it on, say, a six-monthly basis? This would enable you to pick out those who might be having a laugh at your expense.

When you identify a problem then you must look at more effective management of that person and, if necessary, disciplinary action. While we may be running charities, we are not a rest home for the work-shy.

So analyse your sickness patterns and deal with individual problems.

But it would be a bit harsh to punish staff that really go the extra mile for you when they have a genuine sickness. That would hardly raise morale.

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

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