The lawyer's guide to skiving


Date: 15 August 2011

Businessman with phoneWhat you need to know before that croaky phone call…

Eskimos have, it is said, 200 words to describe the different types of snow. The British have a similar number to describe not going to work: pulling a sickie, swinging the lead, bunking off, having a duvet day, as well as the plain vanilla description: skiving. I mustn’t forget my wife’s personal favourite: business development. Our creativity for thinking up euphemisms for taking unauthorised time off work is matched only by our propensity for bizarre excuses to explain unauthorised absence. 

A recent Price Waterhouse survey of 1,190 people reported one in three people admitted to having lied to take sick leave, costing British business up to £32 billion a year. Most people skived off because they were bored or fed up. In many cases they didn’t see it as being dishonest because they thought they were owed it by their employer for having worked hard. For 21 per cent of respondents, family was the real reason behind pretending to be ill, emphasising the importance of flexible work practices as a means of reducing absenteeism. 

Illness was the most common excuse given and some people admitted faking symptoms around the office in preparation for pulling a sickie. It reminds me of a friend’s father (now sadly deceased) who would, every now and then, get a flare up of the “old malaria” and have to take a couple of days off, much to the bemusement of his employers in St Albans (he had, of course, contracted malaria whilst in the Army on duty in the Far East during the War and, apparently, it does recur every now and then). If I remember correctly (and probably not, because my memory isn’t what it was these days) Bridget Jones’ method for taking a sickie was to announce she had an appointment with her gynaecologist. That ensured no further questions would be forthcoming from her, male, boss. 

On the subject of dodgy memory, my favourite excuse in the report was given by the person who claimed amnesia as an excuse for not attending work; what, they forgot where they worked? Or that it was a weekday and they had to get up? A close contender was the man who said he had to take his dog to the vet, having previously told his employer the previous week that it had died. Other excuses included having being hit with a dart in the back of the head (sounds quite nasty, actually), injury during sex and someone who said their dentist had diagnosed early signs of dementia “in their gums”. 

If you’re thinking of pulling a sickie but can’t think of any good excuse then, never fear, there’s an app called, appropriately enough, “skiver” to help. You put in how many days you want off and it will come up with an appropriate and plausible sounding ailment and list of symptoms to cover you. Fancy one day off? Have a migraine. A week? Try a dose of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. Six months? Bubonic plague, perhaps? Helpfully the app will also generate an email or text to your boss so you don’t have to break the bad news, which might be embarrassing if you’re phoning from the pub. We’re not told how sophisticated the messages are but I hope it doesn’t say “I am suffering from housemaid’s knee today and won’t be in. Signed My Mum”.

Employees should also beware the schoolboy error made by one Kyle Doyle in Australia a few years ago. He was man enough to phone his boss to say he was unwell and then updated his Facebook status to read “is not going to work. Fxxx it, still trashed. Sickie woo!!!” whilst forgetting that his boss was one of his friends on Facebook. Silly. Unemployment followed.

Employers - don’t despair. There’s an anti-skiving app for you called Crystal Ball. It is designed to cut down skiving amongst non-office based workers by tracking them via the GPS on their mobile phones whilst out and about. Ostensibly the idea is to keep a watch on expenses and mileage claimed, but the wider use for it is clear.

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