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Should 'serial skivers' be penalised?

A ridiculous, unworkable plan. I hope Wandsworth council tax payers are ready to fork out compensation to council employees who contract an illness from a colleague too scared to take time off.
Simon Bayliss, England

Sack the lot of them I say, and don't let them claim any benefits either. I have never had a day off sick in my life. I am 78 years of age and still work a ten hour day.
Bob Smith, Hong Kong

Just two of the comments by Talking Point readers. Take part below.

Background ¦ Your reaction

The Background:

You've had a great weekend, it's Monday morning, the sun is shining and the thought of going back to work is filling you with dread. The temptation to phone in sick and sit in the garden soaking up the rays is overwhelming. Sound familiar?

Bad back, stomach bug, sore throat, waiting for the gas man - it seems the list of excuses is endless. It's all proving to be one big headache for a London council.

Wandsworth Borough Council say the time has come to penalise what it calls "serial skivers".

They are proposing to make employees pay a day's salary, work extra hours or lose annual holiday leave if they take more than a certain number of days sick leave each year.

Is it time to stamp out the culture of bogus 'sickies'?

It's estimated that the millions of working days lost each year is costing the country a staggering £6bn each year.

But trade unions have reacted angrily to the proposals, calling the plans an "utter disgrace". They believe that the plan will penalise workers who are genuinely ill, forcing them back to work and possibly making illnesses more serious.

Do you think people take too many 'sickies'? Is there a danger of penalising genuine workers? Or are you tired of having to do the work of colleagues who have phoned in 'sick'?

What's the most imaginative excuse you've heard?

Background ¦ Your reaction

Your Reaction:

Read the first comments we received

I know of a couple who work for a large corporation with generous benefits, yet they constantly take days off together "sick". They are often away on extended weekend holidays, and generally have time off when they feel like it. I think it's outrageous. Another acquaintance has had nearly two years of sick days in the last five years and freely admits it's all a fraud. These people should be fired.
Stuart, United Kingdom

When you suddenly realise that the person who takes most days off is always ill either on a Friday or Monday it tends to make you not altogether sympathetic.
Mike, England

The key issue is to find out whether the sickness is genuine or not and work with the employee concerned to manage their attendance. What Wandsworth are doing is of dubious legality, contrary to their own policy of equality of opportunity and labels simply everyone who goes sick as a "skiver" -treating all your staff with suspicion and contempt is simply bad management - but then that's Wandsworth Council for you!
Austen, England

Council workers are entitled to huge amounts of sick leave at full pay - more than 150 days if they've been employed for 5 years. It's this which encourages them to take time off.
Neil, UK

'Sick leave' should be converted into extra vacation days that can be taken at times during the year. This is far better because it makes it much more convenient for management to have the appropriate number of employees on hand to operate a business. 'Sick leave' days should only be taken by advance notice unless there is a genuine illness that prevents attendance at work.
Dave Adams, USA

I strongly urge people to look for a broader solution to the problem, such as the "P-day" plan described by Rebecca, United Kingdom. The current tendency towards "zero-tolerance" type policies and the public support for them will merely heighten the problem by refusing to even ask why people are fraudulent sickies, or try to implement a more inclusive and constructive strategy.
Robert Spittlehouse, UK

I have to totally agree with David Baynes. While I'm not for unfairly burdening your co-workers by not being at your position, sanity and personal health/well being are far more important than what the prevailing views here seem to indicate. I work in the USA and we get only 2 lousy weeks of vacation a year. You only live once, so you have to make it work in whatever way you must.
Andy, USA

I always feel I'm skiving if I stay at home for something as trivial as a cold. Consequently I come in and infect everyone else. I think it's the boss's responsibility to say "Go home, you're ill.", but they never do...
Steve, UK

If you are ill, the first thing you try and convince yourself is ... you are NOT ill. You struggle into work and then get sent home. When you are finally better, you still look a little off colour. It is quite easy to spot people who skive. Skivvers drop their colleagues in it who have to do their work as well as their own. They should be penalised because they cause resentment in the working environment which damages morale.
Mike Thomas, UK

They're complete superstars for having the ability to use their brains in a clever and sly manner and I take my hat off to anyone who does this especially if they work for big corporations creaming the rest of us.
Ed, UK

When I briefly worked for one County Council, if a person was leaving, the usual calculations were carried out to add any untaken holiday entitlement onto the final pay check, which was quite normal. However, I was most surprised to hear that a proportion of untaken sick leave was also added. So if the Councils have tacitly endorsed sickies as quasi holiday, they really can't be surprised if their workers regard it as an entitlement, whether it's justified or not.
Sally Gregg, UK

I must agree that there should be some form of punishment for people who think it's okay to take their sick days as extra holidays. I have worked in a few companies where there is a kind of helplessness in how to punish people for taking sick days that obviously aren't. As you have to provide a doctor's certificate only after 5 working days, there is nothing the company can do.
Dana, UK

I'm afraid I have to agree. All those who make money without lifting a finger, who can decide they just don't want to work but still pick-up their pay and ensure that others work whilst they stay off and still get paid......"sack 'em all". Oh, sorry, we can't sack them can we? They happen to be those who earn more than they are worth and can then invest extensively in the stock market, buildings, futures, other property etc. Those who decide that they want to earn more and so sack staff, cut services, charge the public more and give themselves pay rises when the 'company' earns more by giving the consumer less. To all those who talk about worrying about who 'chucks a sickie' (Australian term), stop being so easily lead by the nose. Use your head and start worrying about those who don't pay their fair share of the tax bill - tax dodging costs YOU far more.
Patrick, Australia

What a ridiculous idea. I have medical problems and absence through sickness that is directly related to my job. The employers are responsible in many cases for this apathy towards work with too much stress put on staff, inadequate working conditions etc. Even in my 20k+ job this has affected me badly. Any scheme like this must first look at the employer. That is where the blame often starts. Serial abuse of the system should be weeded out but maybe a third party should be involved. I certainly don't think that management with no medical knowledge should be able to make such a decision.
Will , U.K.

When will the unions realise that they are not in existence to support scroungers and get on with representing the vast majority of their members who carry the burden of providing vital public services short staffed when their dishonest colleagues swing the lead!
Roger Butterworth, England

Skivers are everywhere, there's no doubting that. The point I want to make, however, is about us contractors who don't have permanent contracts. So if we are sick, we don't get paid - simple as that. Nor do we get holiday pay (although holidays are available to us. So my question is how does organisations treat contractors whom they suspect of skiving compared to permanent workers? A permanent worker and a contractor skive for the same day. Who is worse off?
Jason, UK

Bring back conscription and put the serial skivers in the army. They would not get away with it there! In the meantime, restrict uncorroborated paid sick leave to one day per month.
John C., England

I think that this is a matter for individual employers to decide. Obviously if the same few people are continually taking Monday mornings off then perhaps disciplinary proceedings would be slightly more effective than simply losing a days salary. However, there are people who are genuinely ill from time to time - to penalise them is wrong in my opinion. This would force the sick back to work before they are well and apart from the fact that they won't be able to do their jobs properly, there would also be a high risk of passing their illness onto other members of staff - thus causing even more people to take time of sick - vicious circle eh?
Simone, UK

There is a real fear among workers in many organisations where they dare not take sick-leave. These people come into work and spread their germs and everybody suffers. Whilst there is a need to catch skivers who take advantage of sick-leave rules, we must acknowledge those who are genuinely ill. I'm glad to say that I've never taken sick-leave in my 3-year career, but I would hope to be able to take it should I ever need it.
Richard Hodges, Wales, UK

Serial "skivers" should be granted their wish. Relieved of their duties for as long as they "want to be sick". Co-workers do suffer when these skivers don't show up to work; double work load e.t.c
Angela, Los Angeles,U.S.A

I like the Swedish idea of not getting paid for the first day off "sick". As the father of a serial skiver, I support any action to get him to work.
John Atkins, Brit in Singapore

The root of why people take sickies should be looked into, work or personal stress are legitimate reasons, on occasion and not just when the surfs up!! Or mental health day as they call them in Australia!!
Nyky, Australia but from the UK

I work for Best Access systems in Indianapolis, Indiana (formerly Best Lock corp.) and we get only 4 sick days per year regardless of time of tenure. The rest have to be requested. Albeit there is latitude with the other days off we are allowed due to tenure with company, but not so much. Those who do this frequently only burden others with their work while they get out of it.
Everett A. Haldiman, U.S.A.

We're about to implement a 'no sick leave lottery.' All employees who do not take more than 1 day sick leave per annum are entitled to a ticket for a four thousand pound lottery. This plan was implemented elsewhere and proved extremely successful. Seems a popular move here also.
R W Shelley, Taiwan

Who CARES if someone takes a day off once in a while?!
Patrick E. Cooley, Canada

Nobody can deny that a few people abuse sickness absence - but I suspect that true "skiving" only accounts for a very small proportion of sick days taken. There are many chronic conditions that do not in general disable someone from working, but can vary in intensity and occasionally prevent people from coming to work for a day or two. Callous and ignorant people often condemn sufferers as skivers totally without justification. And we do now have disability discrimination laws in place - so companies must tread very carefully if they want to target the genuinely sick.
Peter, UK

My educational institution uses the P-Day system. No questions asked. If you have an emergency, personal need, or feel "burned out" simply use your P-Day. These can be used to extend your holiday or lengthen your sick time. Either way your ethics are more likley to stay intact.
Scott, USA

Sick time has to be taken as part of the overall performance of an employee by the employee's manager. If the person is off sick more than average, but achieves much more than average when at work then they clearly should not be penalised. I'm sick (ha) of people defining an employee's worth by how much time they're in the office. I know plenty of people who live at work, but they're on the phone all day, or chatting in the break room, or otherwise achieving nothing.
Sean Taylor, USA

Why should employers pick up the cost of sickness ? If "society" thinks people should be paid when they are not working then "society" should pay the bill.
W Scott, UK

In Canada employers will give you a finite number of days you can be sick on - or a number of "sick incidents" - that means, if you're sick for more than three times a year or 10 days - tough!
Julia Doherty, Canada

A year ago I would have agreed that people who call in should pay a price. Then I fell ill with something and the doctors were unable to figure out what was wrong. I feel very lucky that my co-workers and my boss were supportive during that very long 9 months. I put in what hours I could and I did my job but I was out often either at home or at the doctors/hospital. If there would have been a policy of penalization, it would have added to an already bad situation.

Just because you sit next to someone does not mean you know everything about them. If places of work were supportive then there would not be as many people trying to get out of being there. And places of work are supportive not only by the policies they have in place but also by the attitude of all the workers involved. If someone keeps calling in sick, maybe someone should be concerned and if the person is just 'goofing off', they would be caught out. It goes back to the old saying 'Treat people like you want to be treated'. If you were sick, how would you want to be treated?
T. O'Grady, USA

My company in the USA allows me 6 paid days of sick leave per year. Compare and contrast this with UK legislation that provides for mandatory sick pay for a period many times longer than this. Needless to say, I have no intention of skiving off work!

These two scenarios represent opposite ends of the spectrum; for a good compromise solution, I believe that the current levels of mandatory sick pay should still be available for genuine long term illnesses, but for shorter 'illnesses' it should be limited to about 10 days per year. That would soon put paid to the plans of the skivers...
Ed Bayley, USA (English)

Whilst all the unions moan about another sensible reform why don't they consider the lot of some of their paymasters. Those who are self-employed and pay Council Tax. If a plumber does not go to work, he does not get paid. Whilst every good employer will be flexible about the odd day off for whatever reason, serial bunking is unacceptable. These people rob the taxpayer who has to pay for their selfishness.
Kevin Foster, UK, in USA

I am afraid I would sack the lot of them and not give them any benefits until they had learned a few lessons in life. There are too many people out there who live off the backs of other people and it is time we put a stop to it once and for all.
Meg Webb-Bailey, USA

I'm a Brit living in Sweden, and here it's a government rule that you do not get paid for your first day off sick. If the same rule was applied in the UK, it would soon make the skivers think twice about that regular Friday 'upset stomach'!
Nicky Hill, Sweden

Until recently I employed a workforce of 200. The best excuse I heard was "I'm not coming to work today - I have a mouth ulcer!
P.Smith, UK

How trivial can you get? Anybody would think that the rich don't skive of work! How much work is being done by all these people racing around in their 4x4's hanging onto their cell-phones? How much is really achieved by all the time spent at those interminable seminars and "continuing education" conferences so loved by the upwardly mobile? What real value does society get from all the time expended on pressing mohair into leather at the board meetings of the banks and oil companies? How many hours out of the 10/12 hour days gloated over by the managers of industry are actually "worked" on the golf course or sleeping in the comfortable surroundings of business-class air travel. Sorry folks! The real rape of the world's wealth is taking place in the corridors of power not in the dusty passages of municipalities.
David Baynes, Canada

This is a good idea. It should be easy to determine which employees take an above average amount of sick time. Those that do should be required to produce doctor's evidence that the sick time is genuine - this approach would avoid penalising those who genuinely need the sick leave.
Mike Rose, England

We shouldn't put all the blame on the skivers. Their managers are also to blame. Why haven't they confronted the person, or gotten rid of them? Also how did they get hired in the first place?
Helen, USA

I wish I could comment but I pulled a sickie today so am reading this at home.
Allan Dully, UK living in USA

If you can't work, you can't work - whether it's through no sleep, illness or tiredness. you can't make people work and there is room in the system to allow people not to work that hard. Some people go into work and do nothing - why bother? You can stay at home, use less resources but work more effectively when you ARE at work. These people who say punish the skivers - they lie! Everyone has skived sometime - whether it was at work, school, university or in a relationship - it's human nature! Skive to survive!!!
Rasta 'Billy' Skank, UK

Of course people who take time off work without good reason and claim to be sick deserve to be penalised. However, the mechanics of providing a solution are very tricky indeed. How do you differentiate between a real sickie and a fake one? Will differing personnel departments use differing rules to decide who gets the chop. Set strict rules and it can be used as a staff reduction tool, particularly where personal differences exist or businesses wish to reduce staff numbers. Holding on to work is difficult enough without giving over zealous personnel managers even more weapons with which to beat the workers. Does this apply to managers' "golf days" as well?
Dave Hay, UK

We all contract some kind of illness once in a while but everyone in the office knows who is regularly off. Just a look at these peoples sick records over the last year or two makes them stand out a mile. Unfair on the rest of the honest people
Graeme Kellett, UK

It's not just the slackers who get away with it that are bad. It's the bosses who let them do it. A colleague of mine seems to have a mysterious disease that prevents him getting out of bed before midday meaning more work for the rest of us, yet our employers lets him get away with it time after time.
Jeremy, England

Another word for serial slacker is lazy. I would prefer to have an absent colleague than one who doesn't do their bit.
Mike Rotch, UK

Was it not the social reformer and philosopher, Royston Tappitt, who said 'Let man show his true worth by his innate desire to avoid true toil'? Perhaps Tappitt's words are still held in regard today-in the Wandsworth area at least!
Sophie Grey, England

I was astonished to see the comments from my brother Mike. He is on the dole and has never done a day's work in his life - unless you count playing with the computer all day as work. Perhaps he'd like to come to my workplace and show me how it's done!
Carla Rotch, UK

Sophie Grey is correct, but she forgets one thing; Tappitt advocated an anarchistic model of protest against the ruling class. Specifically, he actively encouraged his followers to "down tools" in order to undermine the manufacturing and financial base of their employers. The desired effect would have been mass bankruptcies among business owners. Surely, even an employee of Wandsworth Council would not desire the logical result of Tappitt's Pogrom?
Prof. E G Wallis, Great Britain

Serial skivers should be sacked. However proving they are skiving is damn near impossible. Especially when a harassed doctor will give them a sick note just to make them get out of the surgery.
Ian Thornton, UK

People like this are not pulling their weight and are leaving others to cover for them. Just as bad are the people whose working day begins at 9am but constantly turn up nearer midday, claiming they have overslept. There seem to be a great number of both types in my line of work and, as a hard worker myself, I would be delighted if they were sacked.
Mark Verth, UK

In proposing this measure, Wandsworth BC are presumably happy to present themselves as incompetent employers who cannot or will not deal with problem staff on an individual and objective basis. Perhaps they could also initiate a scheme whereby public sector staff working in areas where they are constantly being coughed and sneezed over by members of the public, and picking up stomach bugs from communal toilets, could claim compensation for the disruption to domestic and social life entailed by sickness? Autumn Semester starts tomorrow and I'm already on the Zinc and Vit.C supplements........
Rita Gallard, UK

Taking a sick day is often the only recourse if you work in an organisation that undervalues or exploits you. How can a company such as this expect loyalty from its workforce?
Lee, England

Read the first comments we received

Background ¦ Your reaction

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