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What if Your Employee Does a Jungle Bunk?

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Most people will have been astonished to learn that the Conservative MP, Nadine Dorries, is to take part in the reality TV show “I’m a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here!” and in so doing, will take time off from her normal duties as an MP but still receive her MP’s salary.

JungleShe will also receive a sum (reported to be around £40,000) for her TV appearance. A normal employee embarking upon such frivolity could expect to be dismissed for gross misconduct unless they had obtained express permission from their employer to take time off. In addition, such time off would be unpaid as it would not fall within any of the qualifying categories for paid time off work.

It is not uncommon for employers to discover that employees off sick, often on long term sick leave for stress and other related conditions, have been engaged in activities which would suggest that their supposed illness is not exactly genuine. Indeed, we came across a case recently in which an employer discovered that one of its staff on sick leave for stress was in fact touring with his band in Russia! One might argue on his behalf (and we would stress that this is an extreme angle which we would not necessarily endorse) that if it were work related stress and he were advised by his doctor to do something which would alleviate that stress, then his actions may be legitimate. This is overlooking the point that the tour dates must have been arranged in advance. However, in those circumstances, we would at least expect that the employer is made aware, especially where the employee continues to receive full occupational sick pay during their absence.

Obviously the Nadine Dorries case is different in that she has been open and frank about her intentions ( she could hardly keep it a secret)  but there are some parallels to be drawn  and many have expressed the view that she should be removed from her position. 

If employers do suspect that an employee on sick leave is not genuinely ill, then a proper and full investigation should take place before they dismiss in order to ensure that any dismissal is procedurally fair and does not land the employer in hot water at an employment tribunal. This would involve giving the employee the opportunity to explain their actions and providing a right of appeal against any disciplinary action which is subsequently taken.

For further information contact Paul Grindley on 0113 3993424 or paulgrindley@hlwkeeblehawson.co.uk or another member of the Employment team.

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