Q. One of my colleagues is on long-term sick leave, supposedly with a bad back. I saw him playing tennis last week but he didn’t see me. What do I do? I am tempted to tell our mutual boss, partly because I don’t think it’s fair he’s pretending to be sick when he’s not, but also because his absence has left the rest of the team picking up his case load. Or I could just let slip to the office gossip and then the boss would find out in no time.
A. The reasons for sickness absence ought to be confidential. Understandably, some people do not want details of their health problems known to colleagues. Any decent employer ought to have a sickness procedure to help people back to work. The procedure should also identify patterns of sickness which might indicate unsafe or unhealthy working practices. But beware. If the procedure seems to begin with a presumption that everyone on sick leave is a potential malingerer, then it’s a bad procedure. Also remember that stress is a major cause of sickness absence in social care workplaces and healthy exercise is a good stress buster.
So don’t tell tales on your colleague. You may not know the real reason for his sick leave. But if you are concerned at the effect your colleague’s absence is having on the team, raise the issue. Ask your union rep to discuss with the employer the need to provide proper cover for sickness absences. Whatever the reasons for your colleague’s absence, your employer should not let the rest of the team suffer. If working excessive hours to cover for the sick leave of colleagues is the norm then there is a real problem that needs addressing.
Owen Davies is national officer for local government at public sector union Unison.