Presenteeism harms employee health

UK workers are so terrified of losing their jobs in this recession that two out of five have not taken a day off for sickness absence in the past 12 months, with such “presenteeism” potentially putting their health at risk, according to a new study.

The survey by health insurer Simplyhealth found 43% of people polled had not taken a day off, up 7% on the 2008 figure.

Work environments were also becoming increasingly pressured, warned Simplyhealth sales and marketing director, Raman Sankaran. “The current economic climate has not been conducive to good working relationships as, worryingly, the research reveals that one in five people feel they are not believed when calling in sick, unless their illness has been witnessed by their employer,” he said.

Workers in Newcastle upon Tyne were most concerned about their jobs, with almost three-quarters of those polled in the city admitting they were less likely to call in sick, while more than half had not taken any days off for sickness absence in the past 12 months.

In a separate development, the European Court of Justice in September ruled that workers who fall sick while taking their annual leave should be allowed to retake their holiday. It follows a House of Lord’s judgment in the case of Stringer vs HM Revenue and Customs earlier this year, which ruled that workers could accrue holiday pay while on sick leave.

The ruling is potentially at odds with UK working time regulations that specify it is unlawful to carry over more than eight days a year.

The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development warned that the ruling would be impossible for employers to manage.

“Unscrupulous employees will now potentially be able to self-certify exaggerated or fabricated sickness while on leave and gain extra holiday, possibly carrying it over to the next year,” senior policy adviser Ben Willmott said.

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