I work as a salaried employee for a software company in the UK, I've been there about 1.5 years. Their primary market is consultancy - we get assigned clients, travel to their offices for the work week and travel back for the weekend. This might sound familiar to you. I refer to the company throughout as A1 Software.
Every time we call in sick, upon returning to work, HR schedules a one to one meeting with us. Up until the last time I had a cold I thought that this was a nice practice: the tone of the meetings was friendly. A1 Software asked, for example, whether there were any underlying problems that they could help me to overcome so that I was ill less often. This makes sense to me, it's in everyone's interest for them to care in this way. The last time I had this meeting it was my fourth in the span of one year and the tone was decidedly different. A1 Software told me that they thought I was taking "too many sick days" and further implied that I might be using them to, for example, go to daytime sports games* (I wasn't).
This perplexed me. I made the following points:
- I don't think that four colds (or, alternatively, five individual days) off sick in one year is truly exceptional, on average.
- As a knowledge worker if I come into work when I'm not thinking straight (because, for example, I have a cold) there's a real possibility that I do more harm than good. In software we have convenient concepts to point at like "bugs" and "technical debt". When I'm sick I incur these things unintentionally and cost the business money.
- When you come into work with a cold you increase the risk of spreading it around, costing the business more money in lost productivity.
A1 Software replied that:
- A1 Software "holds its employees to a higher standard".
- Because we "don't work very many hours ... [we're] ... expected not to be ill as often".
We work 37.5 hour weeks which is full-time in the UK.
I value my job, it's interesting, and I said as much. I told A1 Software that colds weren't debilitating and that if it was really important to them that I cut down on my absences I would come into work when I was ill, that's fine by me. They replied: "oh no, call in sick when you're sick!" I assume this was because they were trying to stop just short of doing something illegal. Disclaimer: IANAL but a quick Google makes this look bad for sure.
The reason for this question is that I'm off sick, in bed, right now. I'm anticipating a similar meeting to the one described above when I return to work and I want to push back, emphatically, against what I view as an illogical business practice.
I'd understand if I'd taken many more days off but I'm just over the national average. I'd understand if the business lost significant revenue when I was sick because, for example, the client ends up paying for fewer hours of our time, that's not how it works.
I am overly cynical and currently not thinking very clearly. Is there anything I'm missing? Is there a logical reason that A1 Software would act like this?
I've accepted The Snark Knight's answer because I think it most adequately answers the question. I'm grateful for all the responses though, thank-you for your divisive opinions. A lot of the responses have pointed out that my behaviour does look suspicious, fair enough then, I'll pipe down.
I'll clarify a couple of things I've been asked in the comments (in case you're curious):
How many days sick do your coworkers average?
I did a quick straw poll and the mean was 4.5 days, skewed artificially higher by a long-term absence. Those who pointed out that this skew was probably inflating the national average I found were absolutely right.
Do your colleagues all get treated the same way?
Do they get doctor's notes even for <5 sick days?
Why might the company have developed the idea that you were at sporting events?
I have no idea, I don't like sports and have never attended a local sports event. I suspect that the salient point was that they were suspicious generally, not specifically.
Were most of your days off on Fridays/Mondays?
40% of them were.
Did any of these affect a client or work deadline?
Not that I know of. I wasn't working on a project or for a client for most (circa 60%) of the absences. For the others I made reasonable efforts to expedite somebody else picking up my work and I don't think I've ever caused any problems with a tight deadline.
Does HR generally treat you or your coworkers with this level of suspicion?
I've heard similar stories from several coworkers.
You take single days off sick and your symptoms are gone straight away?
Not generally. This week for example I was sniffly and I had a painless cough for a few days, I called in sick when I developed full-blown flu symptoms.
*: The sports events thing was an implied threat and ran thus: "the days you're taking off don't follow any pattern so I can't even match them up with local sports events haha". It was played as a joke and I laughed along in the meeting but I did not take it as one.