By Brendan Russell, Senior Employment Consultant At Croner

Q. I have a member of the team who has phoned in sick several times now stating that he is unable to come to work due to his young son keeping him awake at night. Is this considered sickness absence? I can appreciate that tiredness can make you feel ill, but we all get tired at times.

A. Depending on your internal policy dealing with sickness absence, “tiredness” would generally not be an illness. However, as you’ve mentioned, tiredness can lead to further symptoms or feeling ill, or could even be a symptom of an underlying illness. As this employee is saying that his tiredness is due to his child keeping him awake at night, you would be advised to investigate the reasons for this, such as whether this is this just normal waking, or if there is a medical reason for the child waking during the night. You would need to have a discussion with this employee to obtain all relevant information before considering your next step.

You should consider whether there is anything you could do to assist him attending work, for example, if your employee is finding it difficult to get up on time because he is too tired you could consider agreeing to change his start and finish times, or asking him if he wants to reduce the hours he works.

If there is no underlying reason for the “tiredness” or for the child waking at night, you could inform the employee that “tiredness” is not an illness, and that any absences for this reason will not be treated as sickness absence. Potentially, moving forward, this could be treated as unacceptable absence, and be dealt with under the company’s disciplinary process.

If this is the case, you should discuss this with your employee informally, to make him aware that you are concerned in relation to the level of his absence, and to advise that an improvement is required. If his attendance does not improve, you could take formal disciplinary action. Before taking disciplinary action, however, you may want to consider the impact of having the employee attending work if he is this tired, i.e. would he really get much work done?

If however, either the child or your employee has a serious medical condition which could be the underlying cause of the poor attendance, you should not take disciplinary action, and could request medical evidence to clarify the issue and to help determine whether the condition could be considered as a disability under the Equality Act 2010. You may then need to treat the absence as unpaid leave for dealing with his dependant’s (potential) disability, or sickness absence for his (potential) disability, to ensure that he is not treated less favourably on the grounds of his own, or an associated person’s (his son’s) disability.

Croner supports employers through a range of online tools and consultancy services. Find out more at www.cronersolutions.co.uk

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