The Independent

Sunday, October 10, 1999

Morning sickness is no excuse for a day off, says bosses' lawyer

The Independent

One of Britain's leading employment lawyers is advising employers on how to get rid of staff who are consistently off work for "minor" illnesses, including morning sickness.

Jessica Learmond-Criqui, a solicitor, has set out guidelines for bosses who want to dismiss or cut the wages of workers who extend time off after maternity leave, have hangovers, or just visit the doctor or dentist.

Her A to Z of Absence and Sickness, published by Gee, aids identification of the tell-tale signs of "problem absences". It advises employers to watch out for staff who take a day off with a minor ailment on Fridays "but are then seen shopping", and for patterns of absence during "key football or rugby matches or the Wimbledon fortnight".

The guide lists 50 of the most popular reasons for being absent or sick, ranging from donating blood to helping police enquiries. The "office grapevine" is a source of information, the guide says, reminding that employees' medical certificates can be questioned.

Ms Learmond-Criqui, who is a well-known employment lawyer at the London firm Fladgate Fielder, said the guide would help bosses identify the "main manifestations" of absence. It suggests stick-and-carrot ways to crack down on absenteeism, and gives up-to-date legal advice which advises bosses to be fair but also shows how they can use the law to remove the troublesome.

The guide's publication is timely, following Wandsworth Borough Council's decision to dock workers' pay for too many sick days. Last week, it emerged that Hammersmith and Fulham Council staff took, on average, a month of sick leave each year. Ms Learmond-Criqui, said: "The worst kind of absentee is the malingerer who works the system to their own advantage - now bosses have something to fight back with."

The guide also warns about the growing threat of "disgruntled employee syndrome" - staff with an axe to grind who may stir up trouble among other employees and perhaps use the media to depict the case as a "beauty and the beast contest".

The latest Confederation of British Industry survey estimates that an average of 8.4 days are lost per employee every year through absenteeism, at a cost of 12bn to British business.