A survey undertaken by Intercity Telecom reported that 38% of British workers have used email or text to inform their boss that they were sick and unable to work. The survey of 2,000 business professionals in the UK found that one in five of those admitted they were ‘pulling a sickie’ and felt too guilty to call.

More than one in ten respondents stated that they would not have the courage to sack someone face-to-face, choosing the phone, email, or even text to deliver the news.

A very high-profile case in November 2022 was when Elon Musk confirmed that he had fired over 80% of the entire workforce at X (formerly known as Twitter) by email, which included UK employees.  This approach attracted global notoriety and condemnation.

Peter Stanway, our BackupHR legal expert comments:

There are two issues here:

1. Letting your employees get away with using texts, sending emails or asking someone else to call in their sickness absence is encouraging a lack of ownership towards their contractual responsibilities, as well as being bad practice. We advise all our clients to prohibit such actions as they not only fail to allow for appropriate two-way communication but as evidenced by the 20% who admitted to ‘pulling a sickie’ they make it easier for people to evade work. If you do not address employees who cannot be bothered to follow proper absence reporting procedures then expect to have plenty of short term sickness absence.

2. We advise our clients to be cautious about dismissing employees remotely. Allowing sufficient time to consider the outcome of disciplinary meetings can take time. If you are not in a position to give a decision face to face we would advise employers to, at the very least telephone with their decision and follow that up with a letter confirming the decision, which might go via post or email. We would rarely suggest using texting as an acceptable method of communicating a dismissal outcome other than in exceptional circumstances where other methods have failed. Managers are paid to take on responsibilities and sometimes that involves directly communicating out bad news. Copping out of that is not only ducking out of the job it is likely to land the employer with a tribunal.

The guidance provided in this article is just that – guidance. Before taking any action make sure that you know what you are doing, or call us for specific advice.