Thousands of healthy workers are thought to have taken advantage of official guidelines on the pandemic to extend their summer holidays.
By simply phoning the NHS swine flu hotline or visiting its website, sneaky workers can get themselves a course of antiviral medicine and do not need a sick note from their GP for the first seven days’ absence – don’t anyone reading this get any ideas.
And to make matters worse, the Government is considering doubling this period to a fortnight, which companies fear could make the situation worse and cost them millions of pounds in lost productivity at a time when they are struggling with the effects of the recession.
There are also predictions that more healthy workers will be tempted to call in sick as the weather improves over the next week, after the wettest July on record.
The Employment Law Advisory Service, which provides legal advice to companies on personnel problems, disclosed yesterday that it had begun receiving calls from concerned managers as soon as the self-diagnosis website was set up last month.
It has since heard from more than 1,000 companies that believe staff have exploited concern about the spread of the H1N1 virus to take an extra week off. It believes that the Department of Health’s guidance risks creating a “skiver’s charter”.
Peter Mooney, the service’s head of consultancy, said: “Managers feel that some staff are simply taking advantage of concerns about the transmission of swine flu to take an extra few days off work. Because the emphasis has been on not going to your local GP but using websites to assess the infection and the risk to others, those who stay at home are not going to need a doctor’s note or have too many people calling on them to see how they feel.
“Based on the volume, and the nature, of calls we have been taking, the number of deliberate false cases of the condition is having a significant impact on workplaces across the country — something bosses are keen to tackle.”
The flu service website and phone line handed out over 150,000 doses of Tamiflu in its first week. However, there is evidence that only about one in four recipients actually has the H1N1 virus.
GPs have said that they are being inundated with calls from patients claiming to have swine flu and requesting a note to sign them off work for longer than a week. Many are concerned that they are being asked to certify that people are ill without having seen them, meaning shirkers could take advantage.
Recent figures suggest the average worker takes 7.4 days off sick a year at a total cost of £17.3 billion to the economy, so the impact of staff taking another fortnight off for self-diagnosed swine flu could cripple some small businesses.
I have also read an article in a newspaper recently about a student Emily Morgan who was sacked from the National Pandemic Flu Service call centre for having swine flu - peculiar I know. After feeling ill during her first shift at her holiday job, the 21-year-old was later diagnosed with the H1N1 virus and prescribed Tamiflu.
She phoned in sick the next day, but when she returned to the Plymouth office 10 days later Miss Morgan said she was told she had lost her job. The international business student said: "It's kind of ironic. I feel I would have been better at the job now because I'd know what people were going through.
Miss Morgan said: "I rang them several times and they were well aware I had swine flu, and kept telling me to get well soon. I couldn't believe it when I turned up and I was told to hand in my security pass.”
Miss Morgan had been employed through recruitment agency Reed and when contacted by the press their response was, "There are procedures to follow in cases of absenteeism."
In terms of the ‘swine flu skivers’, I personally think it’s like anything, there are always people out there who will take advantage of a loop hole or opportunity to benefit themselves – I don’t think it’s crime of the century but if it does have a detrimental effect on a business then I suppose they will have to deal with it legally and appropriately.
For all genuine swine flu sufferers – Get Well Soon x