Sickness absence is an inevitable part of managing a workforce. But what if you suspect someone isn’t being honest about why they’re not at work? Or what if someone is at work but is deliberately not giving their full effort?
Skiving off work can be damaging to a business and can negatively impact other employees. As skiving can be a disciplinary issue, you will need to intervene to deal with the matter through a fair and lawful procedure.
This guide provides employers with everything they need to know about employees skiving off work. We’ll look at what skiving can look like, what to do when you suspect an employee is skiving, and if you can dismiss someone for doing so.
What is skiving off work?
Skiving refers to absence from work without good reason and to when an employee is at work but they fail to perform adequately.
The main difference between skiving and absenteeism is that the latter generally refers to when an employee simply doesn’t show up to work. On the other hand, a skiving employee might be physically present in the office, or online if they’re remote, but aren’t really working. They may be wasting time scrolling through social media, online shopping, or just generally wasting time while they should be hard at work.
Unauthorised absence from work, feigning illness, or ‘slacking off’ when at work could constitute misconduct and may lead to disciplinary action.
Reasonable excuses for time off work
Employees are allowed to take time off work as authorised absence when there is a genuine reason and they have followed their employer’s required procedure, for example, to notify of their absence. Some of the most common reasons for employees taking time off include:
Sickness is a reasonable excuse since employees may be physically incapable of carrying out their assigned tasks. Even if they can work, it can often make their illness worse or seriously hamper recovery, leading to more time off in the future. If the illness is contagious, it’s usually advisable for the employee to stay home to avoid the danger of passing it to others.
People can feel perfectly healthy one day and then become ill the next. Reasonable managers will understand this in most instances. It becomes trickier when the same reason is used by the same employee over and over and absence rates are declining.
Ensure that your company has a sickness policy that all employees are aware of. Be transparent about how absences are monitored and what happens if an absence pattern or rate triggers absence management intervention.
While inconvenient, emergencies are unavoidable and unpredictable. Whether it is a car accident or breakdown, a family member who became suddenly ill, or a predicament at home that requires urgent attention. If an employee contacts you to say they can’t make it in to work due to an emergency, it is best to be supportive. Organisations should have an emergency time off policy which specifies what employees are entitled to and how managers should deal with such absences in a fair and consistent manner.
If an employee is relying on emergency time off on a frequent basis, it’s likely you will need a discussion with the employee to determine how this can be addressed, for example, if there are other issues at play, how can the employer be supportive to help the employee improve attendance.
Death of a family member or friend
it is advisable to have an organisational bereavement policy, so that employees know what they are entitled to in the event of the death of a loved one. It’s important that the employee lets you know as soon as possible about the bereavement and employers should take a compassionate and supportive approach to help alleviate pressure on the employee during what is already a difficult time.
Employers will always strongly encourage employees to arrange childcare well in advance. However, family members becoming sick or nursery closures are bound to happen. It’s unreasonable for employers to force an employee to come to work when this happens.
If issues regarding childcare frequently come up with certain employees, you might need to discuss with the employee how attendance can be improved, for example, whether a flexible working arrangement would be mutually beneficial.
Like any other emergency, weather emergencies are unavoidable and can be disruptive. Extreme weather can lead to road closures and public transport cancellations that result in the employee being unable to come to work.
These situations are slightly easier to predict, so it’s wise to get your employees set up to work from home if the forecast shows disruptions due to poor weather.
How to tell if someone is skiving at work
Some skivers are adept at hiding their lack of work and have techniques to make it appear as though they are being productive. They may perform the bare minimum to reach their targets and avoid accountability by avoiding responsibility. Others aren’t as skilled at concealing the fact they’ve been skiving at work. In these cases, it’s easier to spot certain behaviours that allude to misconduct.
Some indicators to look out for if you think an employee is skiving off work include:
- Footage of the employee slacking off (for example, being on their phone, reading, or even napping) while at their desk.
- The employee is repeatedly missing deadlines or targets.
- Not volunteering for new projects or only taking on easy tasks to make themselves look busy.
- Constantly leaving personal belongings at their desk so it looks like they’re in the office when they aren’t.
- Complaints or reports from clients or other employees saying that the employee didn’t show up for a meeting or appointment.
- Constantly having emergencies pop up.
- Leave mountains of work to be completed while they are on holiday. Skivers may deliberately “save up” work and delegate it to others while they’re on annual leave.
If someone has pulled a sickie and stayed off work, you may become aware from people talking about the individual, or you may come across social media posts or photos of the person indicating they were lying about why they are off work.
What to do if you suspect someone is skiving
When you believe an employee is skiving, it’s important to ensure that a fair process is followed.
Conduct an investigation
If you have grounds to think that an employee is skiving off work or wasting time at work, you must conduct an investigation to acquire any feasible evidence to substantiate the accusation of misconduct.
It will be important to gather evidence to support your suspicions. An effective performance monitoring system is essential to help understand if targets and objectives are being met or missed.
Hold a disciplinary hearing
Invite the employee to a disciplinary hearing in writing once you’ve completed your investigation and gathered enough evidence. Include whatever evidence you intend to include in your letter to the employee. This is required so that the employee can prepare a defence. If you do not do this, the procedure is unfair.
The employee is also entitled to bring someone to accompany them to the hearing, such as a colleague or trade union representative. You don’t have to allow them to bring someone unrelated to work, like a friend or family member.
It’s also a good idea to have an HR representative present at the meeting who can give legal advice on the matter.
Review the evidence that supports your suspicion that the employee has been absent from work. You should allow the employee to respond to your allegations.
After the hearing
Inform the employee of the outcome of the hearing in writing. In this letter, you should also remind employees of their right to appeal the claim.
If your decision results in a disciplinary sanction, you should consider if this is the employee’s first instance of misconduct. If this is the first instance, you may find that a written warning is an appropriate punishment.
It could be considered unreasonable to fire an employee for one instance of absenteeism. It could lead to a claim of unfair dismissal if the individual has served two years in the company.
This written warning makes it clear that additional offences relating to the employee skiving off work will reopen the disciplinary proceedings and may lead to further formal punishments, such as dismissal.
Offer an appeal
Employees who have been subject to disciplinary proceedings must be given the right to appeal. You have to provide details of the appeals process in the disciplinary decision letter.
Keep written records of each step of the process
Documenting all the steps taken within the process in writing is the first step. This will provide a complete audit trail if you need to show proof of a fair and reasonable procedure before an employment tribunal.
Can you dismiss someone for skiving off work?
Skiving can constitute misconduct, but whether it warrants dismissal will depend on the facts of the situation.
An employee who spends a little too long each day scrolling through social media wouldn’t usually receive the same punishment as one who has missed several client meetings for no good reason.
In most cases, a first instance of skiving could normally result in a written warning, after which, if the employee’s behaviour persists or worsens, and their performance continues to be unsatisfactory, it may be appropriate to dismiss the employee. This is especially true if the employee’s slacking has meant that other employers are required to pick up a heavier workload or if the lack of work seriously disrupts business operations.
Before dismissing an employee, you must ensure that you conduct a full and fair investigation and invite the employee to a disciplinary hearing where they have the chance to respond to the allegations.
Taking professional advice can help ensure you follow a fair process, which will be critical if the employee appeals the decision or bring a claim to the employment tribunal.
Can you stop employees from skiving?
There are steps employers can take to try to reduce the risk of skiving at work. This generally involves a proactive approach to building a supportive and positive working environment.
Provide opportunities for personal development
Employees appreciate employers who invest in them, so it’s a good idea to provide opportunities for your employees to grow and develop their skills. Your employees will feel like they can contribute to the business in a more meaningful way by sharing their new skills.
While this is investing in your employers, you’re also investing in your business since it will benefit you if employees come up with innovative ideas and new skills.
Promote a positive working culture
Employees may be more likely to skive if they don’t feel like the business or senior employees care about them. Taking time to build open communication and strong working relationships can have great benefits in dealing with issues early before they escalate or result in employees taking unwanted action such as unauthorised time off work. Proactively show appreciation for their working efforts and that their contribution and role is valued.
Supporting flexible & hybrid working
Having the right environment is crucial for employee productivity and morale, as is supporting a healthy work/life balance. By supporting more flexible working arrangements, you are likely to find instances of absence, malingering and skiving will reduce as employees are better able to manage the demands on their time.
Skiving off work FAQs
Is skiving gross misconduct?
One instance of skiving usually isn’t enough to amount to gross misconduct, but it may warrant a disciplinary hearing and a written warning. Repeat offences after a warning have been issued may be sufficient grounds for dismissing an employee for skiving.
Can I be sacked for being off sick?
Employers cannot sack employees for being off sick. Employees have a statutory right to take sick days. It becomes more complicated if the employee is lying about being off sick. This can be considered absenteeism, which is misconduct. Repeated misconduct could result in dismissal.
How many days off work sick is acceptable?
Deciding how many days off sick is reasonable is usually up to the employer. Factors such as the severity of the illness will be considered. Employees have to provide medical proof, such as a doctor’s note, if they are off sick for more than 7 days.
The matters contained in this article are intended to be for general information purposes only. This article does not constitute legal advice, nor is it a complete or authoritative statement of the law, and should not be treated as such. Whilst every effort is made to ensure that the information is correct, no warranty, express or implied, is given as to its accuracy and no liability is accepted for any error or omission. Before acting on any of the information contained herein, expert legal advice should be sought.