According to Dr Cliff Arnall, creator of the equation that calculates the ‘most depressing day of the year’, we are in the midst of a miserable time. This can lead to poor productivity and increased levels of staff sickness. It may therefore be a good idea for employers to review their company sickness absence policies. One area for review could be the use of text for reporting absence.
Suspicions are often raised when employees use texting, email, BBM and any other method of communication they can get their hands on to avoid calling in. Most employers would agree that a genuinely ill employee should have no problem making a phone call to provide sufficient information. In these situations, an unclear sickness absence policy can lead to claims for unfair dismissal.
This was seen in the unreported case of Mark Morrison v Tile It All, involving a worker from Edinburgh who ‘texted in sick’ following a family bereavement. Upon returning to work the individual was not warned that this was unacceptable conduct, which meant that his dismissal for ‘texting in sick’ a second time was unfair. The employer’s sickness policy did require a voice call; however it was a crucial point that the worker had not been warned about this before being dismissed for committing the offence a second time. The tribunal found in favour of the worker.
The claim could have been avoided had the employer conducted a thorough back to work interview in which the sickness absence policy was clearly set out. This needn’t be laborious and could have saved both parties significant time and hassle. In addition to the legal perspective there are other practical reasons as to why ‘texting in sick’ may be seen as unacceptable to employers.
To start with the message may not be received in the first place which presents obvious problems. Even if a message is received it can be open to misinterpretation by the employer, not to mention that a number of employers may find this method too informal or even lazy. Employers generally want to know the reason for sickness in order to assess any consequences. An abrupt text precludes a sensible conversation.
Of course it is up to an employer as to what is an acceptable means of communicating illness, but this should be documented and made available to staff. The key is to ensure that employees know what is required of them.