The first Monday in February is supposedly the worst day of the year for employee absence. Sometimes employees come up with all sorts of weird and wonderful excuses in an attempt to explain their absence from work.

The most inventive excuse I have come across was from a bus driver employed by a client of mine who had a terrible absence record and was on a final written warning. He claimed he had set his alarm to make sure that he woke up in plenty of time to get to work. That night however he explained that he had slept with his bedroom window open because of the heat. He tried to explain that his alarm did go off in the morning but he pressed the snooze button for an extra 10 minutes sleep. Unfortunately for him however he claimed that a bird flew in through the bedroom window, landed on his alarm clock and switched off the snooze button causing him to over sleep! No prizes for guessing the outcome of that disciplinary meeting.

Employers can challenge the excuse given for an employee's absence where they have genuine grounds to question the truthfulness of their reason. The simplest way to do this is to have a policy of always conducting a return to work interview. It typically only takes five minutes and has the added benefit of influencing an employee who wakes up on a Monday morning contemplating whether or not to turn up to work. The prospect of having to look their manager in the eye the next day and explain the reason for their absence often persuades them to make the right decision,

Caution should be exercised however if an employee claims they have had to take time off to care for a dependent such as a child or elderly relative for example. This is because there is a statutory right to take unpaid time off work in order to do so and anyone found to have been dismissed for doing so is able to pursue a complaint of automatic unfair dismissal irrespective of whether or not they have two years continuous service. This is a common scenario which I have witnessed on a number of occasions.

Finally, if you do have reason to question the veracity of an employee's sickness absence, do so with a degree of diplomacy especially if they have produced a fit note from their medical practitioner. You are usually not qualified to make that judgment call without medical evidence of your own. The correct thing to do is obtain your own report from a company appointed practitioner. Challenging an employee's sickness absence when they have provided a fit note certifying them as being unfit for work can put you at risk of a constructive dismissal complaint.

As always, clear policies explaining what amounts to a justified absence and importantly the correct procedure for reporting it will always put you in a stronger position than having no policy at all. This is because even if you struggle to prove the employee is lying about the reason for their absence, you may still have the opportunity to discipline them for failing to follow your reporting of absence procedures.