Top Tips for Employers: Tackling Black Friday Skivers

A recent survey has indicated that around 25% of British bargain hunters are considering calling in sick on Black Friday

This may come as no surprise, given the rare opportunity to grab some seriously fantastic bargains but the impact of the sales bonanza, on businesses should not be underestimated.

Employers could well be set for a productivity slump as countless people skip work, to scour shops and websites for great deals. But with employers’ finding their hands tied when it comes to justifying severe reprimands, or even dismissal, for just a day’s absence (unless it could be proved the employee was not ill and acting fraudulently), what steps can be taken to avoid an employment-related confrontation?

This year, American outdoor apparel retailer, REI, has taken the innovative approach of paying its employees to spend the day outside. Remaining closed on Black Friday, the store is rewarding its employees for doing what they love the most. Being outdoors.

But for those businesses for which, a stance like this just isn’t appropriate – a good starting point is to ensure that HR policies are up to date, particularly sections on leave or absence and internet use. Specifying, to employees, which websites can and cannot be accessed will also be useful.

However, the following points should also be borne in mind:

  1. Check historical sick records and identify whether the same employees are off on the same day in 2015 as last year and the years before – a pattern of absence on Black Friday may justify some investigation and formal action where this is justified
  1. Remember that no Fit Note/ doctor’s certificate is needed for one day so employees who self -certify can be subject to disciplinary action in the event that reasonable grounds exist to suspect that the real cause of absence was not sickness –but proper investigation of the facts will be needed
  1. Most contracts of employment require employees who are sick to notify their employers by 9.30 am on the day of absence, and this is usually by way of a telephone call. Care should be exercised when receiving such calls and a balance is needed as there may be genuine sickness absences amongst the malingerers!
  1. In this situation an employer is entitled to ask the employee to explain what is wrong and obtain reasonable details of the alleged illness so that a view can be taken as to whether the absence is genuine or not 
  1. Check your IT policy as to private usage of the internet at work – this may well be a disciplinary offence unless you elect to have a Black Friday “amnesty day”. This idea may cause logistical issues if too many employees take up the offer so some “first come first served” system may be appropriate. In addition, longer lunches or later clocking-off times might be an option.
  1. While it may be too late to issue a formal Black Friday policy (think about that for 2016!) a round robin email, explaining your position on internet shopping for the day is a good idea so that employees are not under any illusions about the Company’s stance
  1. Consider whether any “incentivisation” would be a good idea – for example those employees who work all day Friday without shopping on line may feel they are unfairly under more pressure to perform compared to those who shop. Perhaps additional time off over Christmas might soften the blow?
  1. Check your Home Working Policy or ensure you create one if the business model allows home work. Can you avoid a situation where all employees decide to work from home on the same day? And do you have systems in place which enable you to check what work is actually being done, as opposed to online shopping?

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