With Christmas only a few weeks away, the thoughts of your staff may be turning towards the office Christmas party and to taking leave over the holiday period. This raises a couple of staff management issues which become relevant at this time of year:
- Does a hangover count as sick leave?
- Can some annual leave balances be reduced?
We have all heard the ‘I’ve got food poisoning’ excuse for not coming to work, particularly the morning after the staff Christmas Party when people have thrown caution to the wind, overindulged and woken up the next morning with a throbbing headache and worse. At this time of year, the reality is that there is an awful lot of ‘food poisoning’ going around. However, a hangover definitely does not count as genuine sick leave and you are within your legal rights to challenge someone you think is abusing their sick leave entitlements.
Obviously, as business owners and managers, we know the difficulties associated with managing unplanned absences. It is far easier to plan if you know that people are going to be on leave. With this in mind, it is a good idea to follow the maxim that prevention is better than cure and to take proactive steps as follows:
- Ask staff to think ahead, plan in advance and book a morning’s annual leave if they are planning a big night out in the run-up to Christmas and over New Year.
- As far as the morning after the staff Christmas party is concerned, let everyone know how many staff can have the next morning off, and the first people to book that time off will get it – first come, first served. For the rest, they will have to suffer their hangovers at work with those who chose to stay on the orange juice.
Allowing such a degree of flexibility at this time of year will be recognised and respected by your staff, and approaching this topic with humour and understanding will be appreciated.
Pushing the boundaries
Unfortunately there are always a few people who push the boundries, leaving the office short-staffed by taking sick leave after a heavy night. If you believe someone is claiming sick leave when they actually have a hangover, you are within your legal rights to challenge this. Our recommendation would be for the following course of action:
- The first time it happens speak to them and make it clear that you believe they were not genuinely sick and that a hangover does not count as genuine sick leave. If, after this, you have reason to believe that they have abused their sick leave entitlements again, you may continue up to and including disciplinary action.
- If they ignore the first discussions, begin the Disciplinary process. If it is established that the sick leave was in fact a hangover, and they knew the consequences of claiming that it was sick leave (as a result of your discussion) then we would recommend issuing a First written warning letter.
This may feel like a stringent approach, but the reality is that the rest of the staff will probably already know that the ‘sick leave’ was in fact a hangover and if others see someone getting away with it, they will very quickly start to copy the behaviour. Avoid the problems by quickly nipping unacceptable behaviour in the bud and your staff will realise that you won’t tolerate the abuse of sick leave.
December and January are quiet months for many businesses, so this is a really good time of year to get those annual leave balances down. Legally, you are limited about when you can require an employee to take annual leave. However, you can certainly open discussions with your staff because, in many cases, your employees would love the opportunity to take an extra-long Christmas break, or to work a four day week throughout January, but they have never thought to ask.
Remember that annual leave is accruing all the time, but is paid out at the rate of pay relevant at the time of taking the leave. As a result the cost of the leave increases every time you give someone a pay increase. It also has to be paid out if any employee leaves. It is important to record annual leave that has been taken and to keep annual leave balances within a manageable level.