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Reasons To Call In Sick

Absence Management

As advanced as technology and medicine are today for work and productivity, many common and rare illnesses can’t always be avoided. It is not illegal to outright deny a person a sick day, however, there are multiple regulations and acts that you could violate if the person is genuinely ill. 

So what is the best way to respond? This article will go over believable and non-believable reasons for missed work days, as well as best practices to aid recovery or further investigation. 

Legitimate Reasons For Calling In Sick

The following is a list of reasons that are typically considered legitimate enough that they’re not questioned, barring when it’s done repeatedly or for an extended period. 

Personal Illness

There are many personal illnesses that a person gets for short periods but are considered debilitating and/or infectious. 

  • Colds
  • Influenza
  • Stomach Bugs
  • Migraines
  • And more. 

 

Minor illnesses are common reasons for short-term absences. A study by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) found that minor illnesses were the most common reason for short-term absences in the UK, accounting for 27.2% of all absences in 2022. 

The Covid quarantine, despite being in the past, is still heavy on the minds of people. During that period, we learned many methods of reducing the chances of passing on illnesses to others – social distancing chief amongst them. Working whilst sick is called “presenteeism”, and the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine found that US employers had to pay billions of dollars annually due to the reduced productivity caused by preventable transmission. Whilst there are no direct comparisons for UK workers, presenteeism is still an issue. The lesson is – presenteeism is far more harmful than absenteeism. 

Overall, an employer should opt to openly communicate when a person calls in sick. Acknowledge the sickness, and express empathy and understanding. Then ask if there’s anything you can do to help cover their work, if applicable. Then, encourage recovery and log the sickness with the details provided. If their sick days exceed 7 days, you’re entitled to ask for a doctor’s note in the UK. 

Influenza Absence

Mental Health Day

In modern times, workplaces recognise mental health for what it is. Whilst many debilitating facets of mental health are unavoidable, such as stress and anxiety, when it gets to the point that it affects your daily life, the best way to recover is to rest. 

Here are some mental health issues that can serve as a valid excuse to miss work: 

  • Stress – Stress is something that cumulates over time, and causes a decrease in focus, decision-making, and general performance. Stress is supposed to be released through leisure or other activities. When stress builds up to a certain point, it becomes a problem that can develop into a mental health issue known as “Chronic Stress”. A 2023 survey by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found that stress, depression, or anxiety encompass 51% of all work-related ill health cases in the UK.
  • Burnout – Burnout is a state of simply exerting so much energy and passion for an extended period into something that you become fatigued. Many people with burnout begin to view their work with disgust and cynicism, and tend to employ inefficacy. It’s a lot like eating the same thing daily and not being allowed to diversify your palette, only the prolonged engagement of work hours turns the dissatisfaction into increasing levels of intolerance towards their role.
  • Anxiety – Anxiety disorders are often confused with depression. However, they oppose each other in many ways. Anxiety is essentially worry, often associated with difficulty making decisions. The more anxious a person is, the less they’re able to perform due to being held back by excessive thoughts. Constantly anxious people are also at increased risk of experiencing panic attacks, which can be life-changing experiences.
  • Depression – Whilst anxiety is characterised by worrying and obsessing, depression is a serious mood disorder that is essentially synonymous with losing your drive for life. Depressed people will experience consistent sadness, inability to be interested in anything, and severe fatigue. It is one of the leading causes of disability, and suicide, worldwide, and is considered exceptionally hard to treat. 

 

The best response is empathy. This is because mental health issues are far more volatile than physical health issues, and prying could result in a worsening of their mood. Furthermore, the employees who manage the absentees will likely have already noticed signs, or have been told by the absentees themselves, of the mental health issues. 

The best policy is to accommodate. Offer support, make resources available to them, and when they come back, try reducing their workload and bringing it back up at a slow rate. 

Family Emergency

Outside of work, employees have lives with unique circumstances. Sometimes, those circumstances lead to a family emergency that requires their full attention. Examples could be: 

  • Sick Family Member – If a member of the family is sick and needs care, especially if that family member is a dependent like a sick child, then they have the right to take leave for a reasonable period under section 57A of the Employment Rights Act 1996.
  • Family Emergencies – Family emergencies can be anything from illness, injury, natural disasters or even death. Even in cases where an employee’s presence is not required, it can still take an emotional toll, not to mention distract them from their work. Furthermore, a pet emergency can also be considered a personal emergency, as even if we aren’t biologically related, they’re still often considered to be part of the family.
  • Unexpected Events – Random, climactic events like a crash, an animal attack or anything else that momentarily threatens life or limb can cause significant immediate stress to an employee. The unprompted and high intensity of these events can take time to recover from. Allow them this time and space to recover.

 

Again, the best practice is empathy. Be a support network, as having existential threats to your livelihood as you know it is enough of an experience to possibly radically change someone’s life, especially when you’re already dealing with a personal matter at home.

Medical Appointments

Medical appointments are considered a necessary part of maintaining health and well-being. Many workplaces will allow an employee to go to a medical appointment, especially if an employee gives their employer advance notice and documentation. Examples of medical appointments can be:

  • Specialist Consultations – Some people require regular checkups, such as people starting medication for depression or ADHD, and missing these checkups can have regressive results on their treatment.
  • Medical Appointments – According to a 2021 survey by the British Medical Association (BMA), the average waiting time for a GP appointment in the UK is 10.6 days. As a result, sometimes there’s no choice but to book during work hours. 

 

A medical appointment is usually not something that is given on short notice. A last-minute doctor’s appointment is valid for something such as having a cracked tooth and experiencing severe pain, or for an emergency brought about by fears such as finding a lump in your testicle. In these situations, it’s fair to ask them to bring in proof. But if the employee is otherwise well-behaved and trustworthy, we feel it’s a better policy to simply mark it as a valid reason. 

Chronic Conditions

A chronic condition is a physical or mental illness that a person consistently feels. Most employees will disclose these conditions in their application/interview, and the workplace can create accommodations for them from there. Not all conditions come with official diagnoses from a doctor, as some can be very hard to measure. 

Some conditions could be: 

  • Migraines –  Migraines are the third most common illness in the world, affecting around 1 in 7 people. That being said, not all migraines are equally debilitating. Some, such as cluster headaches, can come on randomly and be so severe that the person affected can audibly scream. Others can be less severe.
  • Irritable Bowel Syndrome – IBS is a disorder that affects the bowels, causing abdominal pain, bloating, gas, diarrhoea and constipation.
  • Crohn’s Disease – Crohn’s disease is an inflammatory bowel disease that affects the digestive tract, causing many similar symptoms to IBS alongside weight loss and malnutrition. 

 

The best way to respond to a call out of work due to chronic disease flaring up is by creating and abiding by a sick leave policy. Outline company expectations regarding absences due to chronic conditions, as well as requiring documentation outlining the diagnosis so adjustments can be made to the workplace. 

Injury

Injuries can range from minor sprains to head injuries. HSE found that in 2021/22 there were around 565,000 non-fatal workplace injuries in the UK – but that only encompasses the injuries within the workplace. Plenty can occur outside. 

The impact of the injury will determine whether or not missing work is an option. A twisted ankle could result in a few days of rest and recovery, but a broken ankle could take weeks/months. 

Response – Ask about the injury, and how severe it is. Always come from a place of empathy. Then inquire about any immediate needs. If the injury happened in the workplace, ensure that you report and log it. Of course, ensure that if the injury is severe, that accommodations are made for their return. Many injuries will be verifiable just from seeing the employee when they next arrive.

Hospital Injury 

Bereavement

We feel like this doesn’t warrant too much explaining. Losing a loved one is a deeply painful experience, and is not something that you can fake. Any number of intense emotions can be running in an employee’s mind as a result, and it may be likely they’ll feel like they can’t return to work for the foreseeable future.

There’s technically no right to statutory paid or unpaid time off, but we recommend that all employers give a set period for a person to leave and recover emotionally. 

Jury Duty/Court Summons

When it comes to being called up for Jury Duty or being summoned by a court of law as a witness, defendant, plaintiff or accused, employers have to allow their employees the time off. This is the law, and all those summoned to court are protected from action taken against them due to their time in court unless it’s proven they have committed a crime. 

Considering there is no health risk, both mental or physical, involved, you are well within reason to ask for proof, which they should be able to produce easily enough.

Religious Holidays 

The Equality Act of 2010 prohibits discrimination based on religion and belief, and declining time off for religious holidays is classed as exactly that. As a result, all employers are legally obliged to allow time off for these holidays. There can be exceptions, however, if the work is critical – such as within the healthcare system. 

We recommend employers enquire about religious holidays ahead of time and work to prepare for them early. Have a clear and inclusive policy on religious observances, and ensure that you don’t show a preference for one holiday over another. 

Urgent Home Repairs

If you’ve never experienced an existential threat to your home and safety through damage, then you’re blessed. But certain breakdowns within the home must be dealt with immediately. For example: 

  • Burst Pipes – A burst pipe can cause water damage within minutes. It requires the water to be turned off, and immediate repairing. 
  • Gas Leaks – Repairs are immediately necessary as gas leaks are a safety hazard that can damage the lungs on inhalation, or cause fires. 
  • Electrical Issues – Faulty wiring, power outages and electrical fires can pose significant risks to occupants. 
  • Security Breaches – Break-ins or attempted burglaries require reporting and conducting interviews with the police, assessing losses etc.
  • Natural Disasters – Floods, fires, storms – all of these are likely to put entire neighbourhoods out of action for a while after they come through. 

 

The best policy, as always, is to allow the employee the time needed to properly secure their residence. 

Conclusion

Overall, it’s best to try and accommodate as often as you can. The key is differentiating between short notice and long-term notice. For long-term notice, the effects of absenteeism are lessened by the ability to prepare. But when short-term notices happen too often, employers are within their rights to flag and conduct an investigation as necessary. 

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