When illness makes your business sick

New Year’s Eve.  A popular restaurant in London.  It should have been one of their busiest nights.  Instead, the place was half empty and they were turning customers away.  Why?  Because, as I was told by a very annoyed waitress, only 4 staff had turned up. The rest had called in sick.  Does this sound familiar?


Causing financial pain to your business and resentment in your team is not acceptable.  For the sake of those who did work, you need to act.  We all know that at least some of those who called in sick over the Christmas period were not ill at all.  The trouble is, how do you tell who was really ill and who wasn’t?  The first place to start is with a return to work interview.


Return to work interview

Whenever someone is off sick, it is always advisable to hold a return to work interview.  This is good practice to see if they need any support at work.  It will also make them think twice about taking any unnecessary time off.

Speak to them about exactly why they were off ill, what their symptoms were and whether they sought medical advice.   If you had a number of people call off sick or suspect some regular offenders or patterns, point out your concerns.   For instance, “on looking back on your records, I notice that you are often ill after a bank holiday.  Is there any reason for this?” or “I was very concerned that so many were off sick on New Year’s Eve.  I suspect that not everyone who was off, needed to be.  This put a huge strain on the colleagues that did come into work”.

You may not be able to prove something this time but it will make them aware you are watching closely.  It should make them think twice next time.


Disciplinary Action

If you have evidence someone was not truly ill, you should consider taking disciplinary action.  Social media posts have been shown to me by many a bitter colleague who felt let down.  Always follow a fair procedure.

If you do take disciplinary action, treat people consistently.  For instance, if you have evidence to discipline two absentees, they should receive the same sanction.

If they were signed off work but you still have concerns, please contact me before taking any action.

Some other ways to prevent unnecessary sick leave

Always insist your employees call to say they are going to be off ill, not send a message.  It’s too easy and you have no idea where they are when they press send.

If you have any particular areas of concern, say.  You may need to send a general message to all or target specific individuals.  Always confirm this in writing but be careful with your tone.  Be firm but reasonable.  Never call someone a liar unless you have strong evidence.  Some people genuinely were sick on New Year’s Eve.

The Bradford Index is a useful way to identify any issues that need investigating.


The Bradford Factor

The Bradford factor is a mathematical way to judge sickness.  It recognises the impact of lots of small sickness periods on a business.

Look at your absence records for 2018.  Using the following calculation, work out the Bradford Index scores for your employees:

Multiply the number of occasions they took time off ill by itself, and then by the total number of days off sick.


For example, let’s say you have 2 employees, Sam and Pat.  Sam had to take 10 days off following an operation last year.  Pat, for various reasons, took a total of 10 days off, over 5 different occasions.

Name Number of Occasions Total Days off Sick Bradford Index Sum Score
Sam 1 10 1 X 1 X 10 10
Pat 5 10 5 X 5 X 10 250

While I wouldn’t be worried about Sam’s sickness record, I certainly would want to find out more about Pat’s.  In fact, I would want to look more closely at any score that reached 100.


Please contact me if you think this is a problem its time you tackled.

Categories Sickness, Staff Performance