If an employee's absence is due to an accident at work, do I have to pay them full pay whilst they are off sick where there is no contractual sick pay scheme in place?

No. If you would not normally pay company sick pay, there is no legal entitlement for an employee to receive full pay when the sickness absence is due to a workplace accident.

Do employers have a responsibility to tackle employee health issues such as increasing obesity?

The government appear to be all in favour of shifting the responsibility of the nation’s increasing obesity problem onto employers saying that employers are in the unique position of being able to “educate, motivate and support their employees in understanding and actively maintaining their fitness and well-being.”

Responsibility aside, it is true that employers have much to gain from a healthier workforce including reduced staff turnover, higher productivity and reduced sickness absence.

How far can an employer go to encourage a healthy lifestyle without unreasonably intruding on employees' personal lives?

Many employers offer assistance such as free health checks, subsidised gym membership and participation in the government’s “cycle to work” scheme. Other low cost options include organising regular staff sporting activities, but employers need to be extremely careful not to put disabled employees at a disadvantage. Encouraging employees to lose weight may be acceptable but basing promotion decisions etc on a failure to do so is less likely to be appropriate.

How should you deal with requests for time off to watch key matches during the football?

There is no legal obligation to give employees time off to watch World Cup matches. It is up to the employer to decide whether to grant time off or not taking into account business needs. It is common practice that employers will require employees to use their holiday entitlement or work flexibly to make up lost time if they wish to take time off work to watch matches.

What action can you take to deter absenteeism during the World Cup?

Employers can put specific absence reporting procedures in place during the World Cup frenzy including requiring employees’ to notify a nominated manager. It will allow that manager to ask more probing and appropriate questions about the absence and allow the manager to monitor and identify absence patterns on match days.

If employers notify employees in advance that unauthorised absences without a good reason and sickness absences that are not genuine will be dealt with under the disciplinary
procedure, this should go towards deterring “world cup sickies”

What should you do if you suspect that an employee's reported 'sickness absence' was to watch a football match?

Where the employer has concerns about the genuineness of an employee’s absence, further investigations can be made by questioning the employee at the time they report the absence and at a return to work interview. Where there is evidence that the employee was not sick (e.g they were seen at their ‘local’ watching a game over a pint), this would be a disciplinary matter. Unauthorised absence and reporting absences as sickness when this is not the real reason are serious disciplinary¬† offences.

Is it acceptable to contact an employee while they are off sick, or could this be seen as harassment?

It is entirely appropriate to contact an employee while they are off sick as you need to keep up to date with their medical condition and their likely return date. But you do need to be reasonable; a telephone call every few days would normally be sufficient; sitting outside their house in your car probably is harassment. When speaking to your employee, agree with them when you will contact them again, that way you will head off any later complaints about excessive contact.

What should I do if I am concerned that a doctor's note may not be genuine?

We’ve seen all sorts of dodgy sick notes in our time, including one that suggested a “fased” return to work – is it possible for someone with a medical degree not to know that “phased” starts with a “ph”? If you are concerned, contact the surgery and email or fax a copy of the medical note to them for authentication.

What if an employee decides to return to work before their medical certificate has expired?

To be on the safe side, we would usually ask the employee to go back to the doctor to get something in writing confirming that they are happy for the employee to return early. This will cover you if the employee suffers a relapse having returned too soon.

Can an employee take paid holiday during a period of sickness absence?

Yes, following a recent decision by the House of Lords employees on long-term sick leave are now entitled to take paid holiday even though they are not at work. Under this new law, employees continue to accrue their statutory holiday entitlement whilst off sick and can request to take holiday during their sickness absence.

If an employee asks to take holiday during a period of sickness absence but are not paid for it, can they bring a claim?

Yes. If the employee requests holiday while they are off sick but you fail to pay it they can make one of two claims. The first is a claim under the Working Time Regs which would have to be made within 3 months of the holiday requested and would only cover that particular episode of unpaid holiday. The second is an unlawful deduction of wages claim which must be made within 3 months of the holiday requested but could cover a series of episodes of unpaid holiday going back as far as 6 years.