Absenteeism in the Workplace – A Case Study

INSIGNIS Investigations Professional Investigator

Absenteeism in the Workplace – A Case Study

Absenteeism in the workplace - An all too familiar problem

Absenteeism in the workplace is a very familiar problem to almost all of us, most of us would have either witnessed absenteeism by a colleague or have been the employer forced into dealing with the unwanted non-appearance.

We, as a Private Investigation Agency, are often asked to look at this issue on behalf of employers as they suspect fake sickness absences.

Injuries, illness and medical appointments are the most commonly reported reasons for missing work (though not always the actual reason). Not surprisingly, each year during the cold and flu season, there is a dramatic spike in absenteeism rates for both full-time and part-time employees.

Accidents can occur on the job or outside of work, resulting in absences. In addition to acute injuries, chronic injuries such as back and neck problems are a common cause of absenteeism.

Let’s take a look at our case study of how our World Class Private Investigator helped an employer with a persistent absentee.

The Problem

INSIGNIS Investigations were contacted directly by the employer as he was concerned about absenteeism.  The employer ran a packaging company in the North West of England, it was a mid-sized company with a modest workforce.  The company would employee office staff as well as factory floor staff who themselves worked in a shift pattern.

When an employee does not arrive at work, for whatever reason, it is felt across the workforce.  A colleague’s workload is increased to compensate for the loss, stress levels rise whilst morale lowers, depression and disengagement can have a negative effect on efficiency and productivity.  That’s not to mention the cost involved, the costs can be attributed to many factors including wages paid to absent employees, high-cost replacement workers (overtime pay for other employees and/or temporary workers) and administrative costs of managing absenteeism.

The employer who had decided to contact us described an employee who had been absent from work for almost 4 months and had received statutory sick pay throughout that full period.  The employee was a mechanic on the factory floor and helped to maintain the machinery.  His sick notes from his doctor would state that the employee suffered from stress and therefore was not able to work.  The employer phoned us following the receipt of the most recent doctor’s note, the note stated that the employee now suffered from Agoraphobia and the doctor had given the employee another 4 weeks rest.

The employer, however, had other suspicions.  He suspected that the absent employee continued to work in a second workplace, without the permission of the current employer (although he was not obliged to tell them) and also in direct conflict with the doctor’s sick note.  The question from the employer was simple, can you follow him and see what he is up to?

Why ask us?

Some may wonder why would an employer involve a Private Investigator to assist them with their predicament.  But actually, INSIGNIS Investigations are perfectly placed to conduct the investigation.  If you suspect that your employee is gaining financially by undertaking a similar role elsewhere while claiming sick pay from you then surveillance is acceptable and can be used legally to prove your case.

We are an independent body to the employer’s organisation.  We are free from actual or apparent bias or conflict of interest.  Our independence means that everyone gets a fair chance, and that all investigation subjects are each investigated in the same manner, with the same professional, impartial, objective treatment.

The quality of an employee investigation also depends on the competence of the investigators.  Our ability to investigate effectively is an acquired skill. Our Investigators have the experience and the expertise to conduct a credible workplace investigation.  The investigative team will also be mindful of the various legal and business implications of the investigation and the techniques used to gather evidence relevant to the allegations.

Now for the Fun Part!

The employer contacted us about the absenteeism at the end of April and so, after gathering as much information from him as possible and conducting a recce, we agreed to commence a period of surveillance in the first week of May.

A team of three arrived early in the area of the employee’s house, each call-sign plotted up in the pre-planned area.  The address was a mid-terraced house, which didn’t cause us too many issues as long as we could see the front door to trigger any movement, and remain covert in a built-up area.

Our intention was to observe the employee leave his house in the morning and follow him to see where he would go and what he would do.  We would record his actions using covert video and stills in order to capture any evidence of agoraphobia, or evidence that the condition is fake.

Agoraphobia is a type of anxiety disorder in which you fear and avoid places or situations that might cause you to panic and make you feel trapped, helpless or embarrassed.  Again, our impartiality allows us to make conditions and conduct unintrusive investigations so as not to aggravate the employee if the condition was genuine.

Shortly after 0800 hours, the employee’s front door opened, “Standby, Standby”.  The employee emerged from his house, he was wearing a dirty blue polo-shirt and jeans, he jumped into his small white van and set off along the street.  Our team commenced the follow.

Absenteeism - Evidence of Gross-Misconduct

The absent employee drove for approximately 3 miles before stopping and parking his vehicle in a side street.

We observed as he walked into a MOT & Service Garage and out of site.  The bonus for us was that the garage had a large open front and we were easily able to observe the property.  The employee returned in a change of clothes, at least he had put on a pair of overalls with the garage logo on them.  It seemed the employer’s suspicions were true; the employee worked for another company.

We stayed with the observations throughout the day, we covertly recorded the employee whilst he appeared to be fixing cars.  He removed the wheels from  vehicles, maintained engines and conducted inspections under the vehicles, general mechanic duties, all of which we observed and recorded.

Now, if an employee is not prevented from working in another role while employed by you, then they are under no legal obligation to tell you.  However, if you discover that your employee is working in a like-for-like role while claiming sick pay from you, then you will have a case against them. This is because a fraudulent claim for sick pay will constitute gross misconduct which usually gives you right to summarily dismiss your employee.

We continued the surveillance over the coming days, to ensure that the work that we had observed by the absent employee was not a one off.

Was there any evidence of Agoraphobia?

At this point in time, we had no evidence to suggest that the absent employee suffered from agoraphobia, we are certainly not medically qualified to give our opinion in such cases and there was nothing obvious to suggest that agoraphobia was none existent.

Still of the opinion that the employee had made up the agoraphobia to the doctor, the employer requested that surveillance continued.

Our team followed the employee back to his home address on the Friday evening, and we waited.  Patience is key, if the time comes to move again, we need to be ready.

Sure enough, after 2000 hours, the employee emerged again from his house.  This time he walked down the street and he wore a casual shirt and smart jeans.  It looked like the employee was going for a night out.

We followed the employee as he walked into the nearby town centre and into a local well-known bar.  We were equipped with body cameras and other covert recording equipment, and it was this which captured the employee at the bar, he shouted over to his friends at a table on the other side of the room as he called in a round of drinks for everybody.  He drank with his friends and chatted to girls throughout the evening, all of which was captured on video.  It was our opinion that we had captured enough evidence of fraudulent absenteeism and that the employee did not suffer from Agoraphobia, and after we discussed the matter with our client we decided that we should terminate the surveillance there and then.

What happened next?

The employer summoned the employee to an interview following legal advice, and they commenced disciplinary proceedings against him.  We understand that the employee no longer works for the client and he has been replaced with a more satisfactory employee.

We remain in contact with our client and we are always happy to help.

Contact a World-Class Investigator

Now, if you are considering hiring a World-Class Private Investigator due to similiar absenteeism, you may want to give our office a call.  If you’re comfortable discussing your issue over the phone, we can take a few minutes to do that (Of course, all conversations are strictly confidential).   If you then see any value in it, we can meet at one of our offices to discuss how to resolve the issue in person.

Call us now on 0800 009 6423 and speak to a specialist.
INSIGNIS Investigations Professional Investigator

Founder of INSIGNIS Investigations with over 20 years' military, police, risk management and compliance experience. Particular expertise in investigating and progressing complex matters, financial…

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