Workers at Argos warehouses are being offered a bonus in the run up to Christmas if they do not take any time off sick.

Under the terms of the attendance bonus, a worker who does not take any time off due to sickness will receive a bonus of 80p an hour. However, if a worker takes one day of sickness absence in any week, they will lose the right to this bonus for the whole week. This applies to all agency staff across all of the catalogue retailer’s distribution centres.

Questions have already been raised about whether this measure could lead to indirect disability discrimination, which occurs when a company’s practice, policy or rule applies to everyone but has the effect of disadvantaging disabled workers. Argos needs to ensure that this seemingly neutral scheme does not negatively impact disabled workers more than other workers. After all, disabled workers may need to inevitably take sick days or take regular absences due to their disability.

Argos argues that they are acting in accordance with the law and do not tolerate discrimination. They say they will consider the reasons for a worker’s non-attendance on a case-by-case basis.

Pros & Cons of Attendance Bonus Schemes

Hiring temporary workers to deal with increased demand and minimising staff absences is essential for retailers as the months leading up to Christmas are the busiest of the year. Some retailers offer incentives, such as attendance bonuses, to attempt to reduce high short-term absence levels and encourage attendance, but views on whether these rewards achieve their aim are very mixed.

  • People who support the use of attendance bonuses believe it can be a good way to motivate workers to attend work.
  • Some view incentives as useful, but think that they do not tackle what the underlying causes of frequent short-term sickness absence rates are.
  • Some people argue that attendance bonuses unfairly punish the people who are genuinely sick and this can lead to low morale and work motivation.
  • There is also an argument that these incentives encourage ‘presenteeism’ – working while feeling sick. This causes the employee to feel exhausted and their health issue to linger. It has a wider effect on the business as illnesses can spread around the workplace affecting staffing and productivity levels.
  • There are also people who claim that return to work interviews every time the employee is sick are more effective than attendance bonuses. The idea is that you can get a better understanding of their problem and can think about appropriate solutions. For example, if you discover that childcare issues are the reason for the absences, you could consider the option of adopting flexible working arrangements.

Whatever your view is, employers who operate such schemes must be aware that there is a risk that it may be discriminatory if it excludes certain groups of workers. You must take into account that some workers may have a higher level of absences than their colleagues, for example, those with a disability or with a pregnancy-related illness.

Contact your Employment Law Adviser who can give you advice on how to tackle persistent short-term sickness absences in your workplace.

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