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Date: 28 March 2012

The reality of sickness absence – shocking survey findings revealed

Nearly half of public sector workers polled in a recent UNISON Scotland survey said sickness absence policies encourage staff to turn up ill or injured at work.

A quarter of workers (25%) said they had worked in the last month when too ill to do so, while almost two thirds (60%) said they had worked when ill during the past year.

The findings are the result of a UNISON survey which looks at the reality of sickness absence policies in Scotland and provides further evidence to dispel the myth that public sector workers are prone to taking sick leave.

One in seven (14%) of those polled said the sickness absence policy at their work is “unfair” and more than a quarter (26%) said the policy is badly implemented by management.

Of particular concern was the number of staff who reported ineffective stress policies in the workplace. Almost two thirds (60%) reported that the stress policy in their workplace was not effective, while 28% said there was no stress policy at all.

Scott Donohoe, Chair of UNISON’s Scottish Health and Safety Committee said: “Given the sort of jobs UNISON members do we should all be concerned that nurses, care workers, school staff and others are going to work when they are too ill to do so. Of even more concern is the evidence of poor sickness absence policies and little effective action on stress.

“From this survey, it appears that many public service employers in Scotland see managing sickness absence as forcing employees back to work as soon as possible, or disciplining those who are off work more regularly than others.”

Dave Watson, Unison’s Scottish Organiser, said: “This survey shows that the reality in Scotland is a long way from the ‘sickie culture’ that is often portrayed.

“Absence rates have been falling over time and it is a myth that there are easy savings from new policies that assume that sickness absence is mostly skiving.

“Positive sickness absence policies are important, but there is most to gain from tackling the causes of absence, particularly stress, and helping people return to work.”



Notes to editors

1.     The UNISON Scotland survey polled public sector workers, asking them to share their experiences of the sickness absence policies in their workplace.

2.     The TUC report The Truth About Sickness Absence (2010) took the first detailed look at the public sector sickness myths. They found that public sector workers are more likely than private sector colleagues to work when too ill to do so and less likely than private sector staff to take a ‘sickie’ – a short period off sick. While public sector workers take longer periods off work on absence, many work in stressful and dangerous public sector jobs that can cause injury.

3.     Further information can be found online at:

For more information contact:
Dave Watson, Scottish Organiser - 07958 122 409
Scott Donohoe, Chair of UNISON’s Scottish Health and Safety Committee - 07866 952 765
Trisha Hamilton, Communications Officer - 0141 342 2877 or 07939 478 461