Supermarket giant Tesco will not pay workers who take a day off sick under a trial scheme in selected new stores.
Tesco is trying to reduce the number of 'sickies' its staff take
Under the scheme, workers will not be paid for the first three days they are off.
Tesco, which recently reported profits of £1.7 billion, said it was looking to cut levels of unplanned absence in its stores.
A spokesman for shopworkers' union Usdaw said it backed the voluntary scheme at two new supermarkets.
Sick leave - real and feigned - currently costs UK businesses an estimated £11billion a year.
Tesco is introducing measures in around 20 stores in a bid to reduce the number of "sickies" workers take.
A spokesman said: "If someone needs a day off to take their son to the dentist, we will bend over backwards to take that into account in a planned way."
He said that might mean taking the day as holiday, making the time up or simply having unpaid leave.
He told BBC News Online: "This is not about penalising those who are genuinely ill.
"Unplanned absence is what we are trying to curb because it has a knock-on effect on staff and customers."
If workers are ill for more than three days, they can revert to claiming sick pay as well as getting compensation for the previous unpaid days.
Part of the trial would involve looking at how staff who are off ill for less than three days can prove they have actually been sick.
The scheme is only being introduced in new stores, and its terms are fully explained to staff before they join, the spokesman said.
He said feedback from staff had been "very good" since the scheme started.
Tesco has already introduced the scheme in its Irish stores, where the company says absenteeism rates are lower.
A second trial scheme being introduced in the UK offers staff the incentive of more holiday allowance, but reduces it when they take a day off sick. A third offers rewards for good attendance.
All three will be tested for several months before their effect is evaluated.
Kevin Hegarty, spokesman for the Usdaw, the Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers (Usdaw) said the union was supporting the trials.
He said: "Tesco is looking at ways of trying to encourage people to take less days of as 'sickies'.
"Everyone who is taking part in the scheme is doing so on a voluntary basis. No one is compelled to do it."
Rival chain Asda already operates a similar scheme, and also offers flexible hours for those who need time off for personal reasons for religious beliefs.
Employment lawyer Rakesh Patel of union law firm Thompson's told The Observer newspaper: "There is no law entitling you to sick pay."
Is Tesco right to not pay workers who take a day off because of sickness?
This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.
Who is legally liable if a sick employee attends work and subsequently injures themselves because of their incapacity? Is it just the personal responsibility of the employee, or would the Company also be liable; the policy will certainly 'pressurise' people to attend work whatever their condition.
Nick, Aberdeen, Scotland
In fairness to Tesco they do have a staff productivity problem. I took many 'sick days' in my 4 year period of employment whilst at University....It was lovely!!
Stewart G, Bath, UK
As a customer I would be concerned at the staff who are attending work when they may be infectious. Will they get face masks so that we know who they are and to reduce the risk?!
Richard Cooper, Nottingham
Why do workers need incentives to reduce absensenteeism? The deal is you work: you get paid, not you are off work: you get paid. Payment for sick leave (the first three days) is a benefit which many people abuse. In true cases I wholeheartedly support sick pay but let's not take it as a right.
Sarah Williams, London
One thing large companies like Tesco could do is employ a doctor/nurse for each store, so that it could be quickly decided if a person is ill or not, thereby reducing the number of people exacerbating illnesses by working when they should be in bed and calling skivers to account.
Graeme Phillips, Berlin, Germany (normally UK)
This is standard practice in The Netherlands and nobody moans about it. I am surprised that it has taken a British company so long to introduce it.
Unfortunately, the reality is that a minority of people are taking sickies when they are not really ill. It is very difficult to provide a consistent service to the public when you can't rely on people turning up for work. Tesco seem to be taking a responsible approach to trying to find a mutually acceptable solution to this problem.
Chris, Southampton, England
I agree with what Tesco has done. This way people will think twice before taking a day off sick. There are too many people who pretend they are sick but are not. Well done Tesco, I hope other companies follow.
Satpal Matharoo, UK
I think that it is disgusting to put this pressure on people, single parents, people on lower incomes will force themselves to come in. I for one don't want to shop where workers are coughing and sneezing because they can't afford a day off sick, particularly where food is concerned. Surely this will also increase the burden on the NHS as people make themselves more ill by continuing to work rather than resting and recovering.
Megan Whyler, Wellingborough, UK
This is disgusting behaviour from a cash rich company. People cannot help being ill, even if it is for one or two days. I wonder if their policy extends to the boardroom.
John Kelly, Wales
Stopping sick pay for the three days is rather harsh, but I like the idea of incentives for good attendance.
Steve Futcher, Stockport, England
Let's face it. All this means is that if someone has to take 1 or 2 days off sick then they will stay at home for the whole 3 days so that they qualify for their sick pay. This will surely have the effect of increasing the actual amount of time taken in the end!
Karen, Southampton, England
Surely this system will encourage those genuinely sick from colds or stomach upsets, illnesses that can really knock you out for a couple of days, to force themselves to go into work thus infecting other workers and customers.
Cool - Tesco have now officially extended sickies to 4 days!
John B, London
An incentive based scheme - e.g. offering more holiday for a good sickness record - makes most sense, especially if combined with the need to show one was really ill and not faking it. It would reward those of us who follow the rules rather than penalising us along with the rule-breakers. I know proof of illness may well be difficult/contentious, but even so it has to be worth trying out - so I hope that part of the Tesco pilot comes up with some good solutions.
John, Wokingham, UK
I think this will backfire as workers who are genuinely sick will haul themselves into work spreading whatever they've got bringing down the overall productivity of the company. It's also not clear what will happen if a worker is too sick to work and they're sent home, is this a way of cutting pay to a worker by the backdoor?
Mark Lowes, Somerset
No it isn't right that Tesco do that - how can they say they are not penalising those who are genuinely ill when they talk of it being unpaid? This will put stress on people to attend work when they are not well enough too, which can make them worse or spread any infection to their colleagues.
F. Jarvis, Chichester, UK
This, while being a good idea on paper, is not in practise. It is treating everyone as 'guilty until proven innocent', an attitude which will cause ill workers to feel they must come into work, usually infecting others and the public when they do. Or a female employee who has severe menstrual cramps for 2 days would not be able to claim payment for the time she is off in agaonising pain because it wasn't for 3 days. I pray that this policy is never discussed at my place of work else I think the entire workforce would walk out on strike.
Absolutely not. It is all about profit for these large supermarket chains. They are either ripping off the customer with high prices or now penalising their staff if they have a bad cold.
I presume either you or The Observer have misquoted Mr Patel. There certainly is a "law entitling you to sick pay". The Social Security Contributions and Benefits Act 1992 requires employers to pay statutory sick pay to eligible employees. However no payment is required for the first three qualifying days.
Sue Welsh, Shrewsbury, Shropshire
Yet another example of western management reactionary measures to a single bottom line figure. Have the effects on attrition rates, staff morale and customer service been taken into account? Do they really think their customers want people coughing and spluttering over them while they shop? Tesco would be better advised to attempt to understand why staff stay off sick when they are not sick - remember they are the ones recruiting these people!
John Maguire, Glasgow UK
Changing incentives to reduce absenteeism is addressing the symptom rather than the cause. What Tesco, and other similar employers, need to ask is 'what is the cause?'. When these are identified then appropriate steps can be taken to address the cause of the problem.
Keith Gilkes, Maidstone, Kent
That is possibly the vilest thing I have ever read about a major UK company. Tesco makes profits of £1.7bn and yet won't pay its workers when they are off sick. It's disgusting! We should all boycott.
Larry Schlesinger, London, UK