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Tesco trials sick pay ban to reduce ‘sickies’


Tesco is trying to discourage workers from “throwing a sickie” by banning sick pay for the first three days of any illness, regardless of whether it is genuine or not.

The pilot scheme, supported by the shopworkers union, Usdaw, is one of a range of different trials aimed at encouraging staff to use planned absence whenever they can. One option is to offer staff more holiday allowance but reduce it every time they take a day off sick.

So what about staff who really are ill? Is it fair that they should be penalised? Could the scheme encourage workers to go sick for a whole week? A spokesperson said Tesco is aware of those issues and the trials are in their early stages. However, there are fewer absences in stores testing the schemes.

The sick pay ban trial is being carried out in newly opened stores. Workers who already get sick pay will not have it taken away.

6 Responses

  1. Introduce proactive health management programmes
    The rising levels and cost of staff absence mean companies are paying as much as £475 per employee to cover sick leave.

    Companies need to take proactive steps to reduce staff absence. Effective health and wellbeing initiatives such as sickness absence management, employee assistance programmes and access to rehabilitation services, under the umbrella of new 21st century Occupational Health services, are an essential part of managing levels of staff absence. After all, keeping people at work has to be the ultimate goal in increased productivity.

    With absence costs rising every year, employers cannot afford to ignore the benefits of a proper healthcare programme. Employers need to equate taking care of their staff with taking care of their business to create a proficient and cost-effective working environment.

    Companies need to review their current employee health and wellbeing initiatives and introduce proactive health management programmes that bring to bear a range of specialised skills required to meet the needs of business and ensure the optimum health of all employees. This will help reduce the number of bogus sick days, increase morale and ultimately increase efficiency in the workplace.

    Tim Ablett, First Assist

  2. Policies to reduce sickness absence may only be short-term fix
    Policies to help reduce the number of employees taking ‘sickies’ may only provide a short-term solution.

    Though policies such as withdrawing sick pay could help to reduce the number of frequent, short-term absences, they could have a negative impact on productivity and do little to help long-term ill health problems.

    Refusing to offer sick pay for the first days of absence could penalise the genuinely ill and encourage the unwell and infectious into the workplace. These policies are hard to square with a caring employee management approach and may damage staff morale. In some cases employees will stay off work longer to make it worth their while.

    Short-term absences are most common on Mondays and Fridays and around Bank Holidays and major sporting events. However, analysis of total working time lost including long-term sickness shows that absences decrease significantly as the week progresses.

    The ‘long weekend effect’ tends to be much worse in larger organisations, where employees often feel less committed than those in smaller firms, and think their absence is less likely to be noticed.

    Before organisations can begin to address the problem, they must understand it. Employers should measure the cause and duration of absence and the impact on productivity, customer satisfaction and staff turnover to get the full picture. The true cost of absence will not necessarily fall if employees are present in body but not in mind.

    Early intervention and appropriate case management are key. Reporting absences from day one and ensuring that the right people get the right information and support at the right time can reduce the incidence of sickness absence by up to 30%.

    Christine Owen, Head of Health Management Consulting at Mercer

  3. Food safety?
    It is my understanding that people with certain types of infectious/communicable illnesses e.g. diarrhoea are specifically required not to work if they handle foodstuffs. Are Tesco seriously contending that in such an instance staff will not be paid? Do they think that customers will feel happier if someone is sneezing their way around the deli/store?
    I don’t think that theory X is a sensible approach, nor one that makes me [more] likely to spend my money with Tesco.

  4. Absenteeism
    Completion of self certification forms provides reasons of all periods of absence, and as such is evidence, in their own handwriting, should abuse be on-going.
    Company procedures may state that ‘any unacceptable periods of absence in excess of 3 days in any 2 month period may result in disciplinary action being taken’
    Actual payment is discretionary, but must be seen to be consistent.
    A senior manager seeing each returnee on what is basically a welfare interview, also acts as a deterrent when having to justify possible unacceptable absence periods.

  5. Points to note when developing absenteeism policies
    According to the CBI, the average number of days absence per employee each year is 7.1 and the cost to UK employers is £11.6 billion – or £476 per head.

    But will the removal of ‘sick pay’ reduce this financial burden, or will it create a corporate headache, with symptoms such as low staff morale and high employee turnover?

    In today’s working environment, employers are continually looking for ways to stay ‘lean and mean’, but effective. By extension, organisations would do well to ensure that genuinely ill staff are not penalised and sick people are not encouraged to work when they are not fully fit. Employers should be able to trust their staff when they phone in, unwell, and positive approaches to managing absenteeism are more likely to reduce its occurrence.

    When developing absenteeism policies, organisations should:
    · Know the legal framework. Don’t penalise individuals immediately, but explore the reasons for persistent absence and provide help if necessary.
    · Define acceptable levels of absence. Don’t have a culture where absence is accepted without explanation, but do outline what ‘acceptable’ absence is within your organisation.
    · Encourage breaks. Don’t allow your organisation to become a ‘sweat shop’
    and ensure that employees take time for lunch and don’t work late when they don’t have to.
    · Motivate staff. Think about the way staff are managed and determine whether policies such as flexible working will help with the occasional need for a day off. Gain buy-in from staff for the benefits on offer.
    · Monitor absence. If staff know that absence data are being collated they are unlikely to take liberties.

    It’s rarely possible to know in advance that someone will be sick, so the important thing is for managers to show some flexibility. We recognise that all individuals are paid to do a job, but good management is about identifying reasons for absence and developing a solution. It is not about penalising people who are genuinely ill.

    Christine Hayhurst, Director of professional affairs, The Chartered Management Institute

  6. No easy answers!
    For a customer-facing organisation like Tesco, covering sickness absence is costly, and it great to see an organisation addressing such a major business issue, instead of sweeping it under the carpet.

    There are no easy answers. The first step is to understand the reasons for sickness absence and then identify the actions that can be taken.

    Tesco’s pilot schemes assume that illness is an issue of choice and tests people’s willingness, or otherwise, to be rewarded for not taking time off for sickness. There will always be an element of this within absence numbers – people who really could get to work with a little effort. But for many organisations, there are other reasons for absenteeism.

    We know that a vast number of sick days are not due to physical illness but connected to such things as stress and dependent care – more psycho-social issues – and these need to be addressed as well. For example, employees feel that they cannot tell their employers that their childcare or eldercare has fallen through, so take a sick day instead.

    Addressing these types of absence requires a strategy that addresses a wide range of issues including dependant care supports, flexible working, work environment and culture, stress and quality of management.

    Organisations need to be careful that they do not encourage staff to not convalesce appropriately, through simple reward strategies. But by taking a business approach and thoroughly investigating the reasons for absenteeism, there are many ways in which organisations can help their employees to be more productive and happier at work, while also decreasing the cost of feigned sickness absence.

    Penny de Valk
    Managing Director, Ceridian HR Consulting

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