Unauthorized absence from work

If you have indications that the sick leave of an employee is unauthorized, this requires further investigation. If it is unclear whether someone is rightfully absent, finding evidence can be difficult. And evidence is needed to take subsequent steps. Especially when agreements are violated across the border, it can be hard to confirm your suspicions.

Absenteeism is unfortunately unavoidable. No one can be expected to never be ill. If it happens often to one of your employees, there is a reason for an interview. When doubt arises about a person's (temporary or partial) incapacity for work, there is reason for further investigation. In order not to jeopardize the work environment and not to act in violation of the law, a discreet investigation is requested that does not infringe someone’s privacy.

Case example

Bernard (51): In my construction company near the Belgian border I have a team of up to 100 people working with me. One of the guys is Kevin. He has been working as a bricklayer for four years now and he has a permanent contract. From the beginning he reported sick every now and then, but never for more than a few days. Apparently he’s a strong guy who is susceptible to flu. So there was never a discussion about it. These men are often on scaffolds in bad weather, so it’s to be expected that someone comes down with something.

But since three months he is on sick leave because of back problems. He first reported sick with flu symptoms, but hasn’t been back since. The company doctor certified him incapacitated for work. I found it remarkable how abruptly he came up with these complaints, as he has never suffered from this before. That’s why I requested an expert opinion at the social security agency. Again, he was declared unfit for work, but meanwhile I heard from several other men of  the company that he was taking jobs elsewhere that he couldn’t do for us.

I scheduled a meeting with him to discuss the rumors. But the conversation took a strange turn. Although I thought I have treated him well and we were getting along fine he reacted offensive and distrustful. I didn’t let him know from whom I had heard the rumors, but asked whether there was some truth in it. He indicated that this was by no means the case and that he could no longer handle the work because of his back.

Bricklaying is obviously a demanding profession when it comes to back problems and he is not the first who report these symptoms. Usually with other employees, there is a period of time in which they indicate at an early stage that the work becomes heavy. Since it’s not my intention to push people to work themselves to the bone, I’m always very careful. We have a large company that runs well and if necessary we can arrange other work to relieve the back. But according to the company doctor and the social security agency, we are now too late for that and for the time being he can’t even work at all.

When I met him in a DIY store in our town he was shocked when he saw me. I found that strange. I saw him coming in but didn’t notice what he was buying. But to me it doesn’t seem wise to pick up any kind of job if you can’t work because of a painful back. Though at that moment I let it go and didn't confront him.

I heard from colleagues that Kevin has friends in the Belgian building industry. His brother-in-law lives near Ghent and often moonlights on various construction projects. The other guys told me that Kevin worked there on a project for at least a while at the time he was reported sick. For me it would be difficult to prove this. He keeps saying that my suspicions are wrong and now he has almost completely broken contact with his colleagues. All I know is that I don’t intend to cover the costs associated with his absence, if he is fooling me.

Now I would like to take control of this myself and ensure that I build a case that allows me to contradict the advice of the company doctor and the social security agency. Meanwhile it’s gotten to the point that if what I suspect is true, this will lead to dismissal.

Suspicious sick leave

Since absenteeism costs a company a lot of money, it is important to make clear agreements on sickness absence and to capture this contractually. You also want to be sure that an employee is indeed sick at home during his absence. If there is any doubt about this that cannot be resolved through discussions with the employee, a well-conducted, professional investigation can make all the difference in your case. Especially in a cross-border case such as this, it is not easy to gather evidence. A specialized, international agency then offers a solution and helps to build a case. When it comes to a lawsuit, it is important that the information in your case is legally valid. Therefore, always call upon a reliable competent company that carries out thorough investigations and collects valid evidence.

Some classic signs of false sickness include:

  • Working for someone else during sickness
  • Working for own company (or starting one) during sickness
  • Conducting activities in contradiction with the sickness report

The effects of unauthorized absenteeism

In addition to the financial consequences, unauthorized absenteeism can also damage trust in the working relationship. It will not only affect the relationship you have with the person who is absent, but it can also affect the relationship with other employees. If someone gets away easily with faking a sickness, then it is not inconceivable that this leads to friction within the entire team.

We can help

Employee absenteeism is a common issue. When a person undertakes paid work during sick leave, the absence is unauthorized. Also there is a gray area which may allow your long-term sick employee to go to the gym, to go out for dinner or to help family with work in the garden for example. Evidence from this gray area can also make a strong case when it comes to court.

It is important to realize that wrongfully accusing someone of taking unauthorized leave will have a negative impact on the working relationship. Not only with the person in question, but probably also with the rest of your staff. So always be cautious confronting employees and do not commit any violation of someone's privacy.

Borderless Investigations can help and investigate this matter for you. Especially in cases that cross national boundaries, we have the necessary expertise to turn concrete suspicions into evidence. This concrete suspicion is important for initiating a dismissal process and also necessary to collect evidence. Through observation we find out whether your suspicions are well-grounded and document this in such a way that it counts as evidence in court.

If the suspicion is confirmed by our investigation, we also advise on further steps, like mediation or a dismissal procedure. In many cases, going to court can be avoided if the working relationship is damaged. Nevertheless if necessary we accompany these steps as well.

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