Yes, we’re talking staff here. I regularly get callers with long tales of woe about useless, lying, thieving staff and those who can’t even be a waste of space since they are too busy malingering to show up at all. A recent caller, who preferred to stick to the pseudonym ‘Tired in Torquay’ had a 19-year-old working for her who was paid the full adult rate. He was fine at first but it became apparent he was a user of class C drugs (cannabis) and eventually his attendance went to pot.

In four months he took 49 hours absence (and only worked an average of 23 hours a week). The only month in recent times that he had not taken casual sick was January when he was actually off on paid annual leave.

‘Tired’ and her husband followed the rules, giving him the various required warnings and reducing his hours, finding it easier to do the extra work themselves than continue with the uncertainty.

At Easter the lad tried to persuade a female colleague to swap some hours. She couldn’t because she was away anyway. He then threw a sickie and brought in a sick note from his GP. The diagnosis was “unwell”. My caller’s big questions were: how do we prove he is malingering? And is there an ombudsman who can investigate what appears to be an irresponsible diagnosis? I think the real answers are no and no. Doctor-patient confidentiality may amount to collusion (and probably a tired, seen-it-all GP) but you’ll never prove it.

I did speak to ACAS, the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (tel: 0845 7474747) because its advice is always spot on and because it is the ones who will intervene should disputes deteriorate into tribunals.

The advice was precise but cumbersome. The couple would have to write to the employee as ask for permission to write to his medical practitioner. Funnily enough, ACAS also suggested reducing the lad’s hours, so great minds think alike.

When the couple did reduce his hours, the lad decided he couldn’t live off this and offered to quit which was, of course, gratefully accepted.

In mid April ‘Tired’ emailed me: “That was three weeks ago. We are coping. Yes, we’re even more tired if that is possible, but strangely less stressed and it’s encouraging to see the wages bill going down instead of climbing. “I’m so pleased we decided to stand by our own better judgement and not feel pressured into believing we were so dependent on staff that they were indispensable to us – a mistake a lot of small retailers do make. So to any other little shops out there, be strong in your resolve and it will work out for the best.”
So, not a perfect but a reasonably happy ending. As they say, that which doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.