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Can Duvet Days reduce staff absence? By Debbie Taggio

Opinions are divided on “duvet days”. Some employers see them as a perk to attract the best talent, others believe they are harmful to their business. Although suspecting an employee is ‘pulling a sickie’ at home and cuddled up with the dog, on the sofa watching TV whilst their colleagues are stuck at their desk meeting a tight deadline can cause bad feeling all round. A duvet day is a possible solution to this issue.

But what is a duvet day?

A duvet day is an unscheduled day off because the employee does not feel like working. This could be attributed to burn-out, stress, anxiety, or other mental health issues. It’s a “just because” day to ease the burden of workplace responsibilities.

It differs from other absences in that the employee is not required to give any reason for being away other than to inform their line manager they are taking a duvet day. There is a crossover with a “mental health” day, although a duvet day policy is more likely to be provided. For example, two duvets days may be allowed per year per employee, whereas mental health days tend to be for specific conditions, such as a flare-up of an anxiety disorder or for seeing a therapist.

Such a scheme prevents employees from lying to their employers, especially when they might not be in the frame of mind to be productive at work, particularly if they’ve had a night on the tiles!

On the flip-side, idleness may be encouraged and expanding on the above, a lack of responsibility for overindulgence the night before could become the norm.

Duvet days versus mental health days

Whilst a duvet day is taken when the employee is not sick but rather a day to recharge, mental health days are a sick day which employers are encouraged to treat the same as those taken off for physical health problems.

It may be easier for an employee to take a duvet day to avoid having a conversation about their mental health. However, employers have a duty of care to allow for potentially reasonable adjustments, so employees should be encouraged to talk to their employer.

In July 2017, Madalyn Park emailed her colleagues to inform them she was taking a day off to care for her mental health. Her company’s CEO replied, thanking her for helping “cut through the stigma” of mental health. She then took a screenshot of the email and posted it on Twitter which went viral, attracting huge public and media attention. Many have cited this as the beginning of an employment revolution, and that many businesses should add mental health days to policy.

Arguably, neither a duvet day nor mental health day will resolve the problem when it comes to anxiety, stress, depression or any other mental health condition. The issues are complex, and although spending a day in bed may make someone feel better in the short term, it is unlikely to solve the problem or make those issues disappear overnight.

Overall, although time off can be valuable sometimes, in the long-term employers need to address the issues in the workplace that contribute to the decline in the mental health of their employees. A few days off will not sugar-coat poor working practices or resolve underlying issues causing an employee to require a duvet or mental health day.

Legal implications

Employers and business owners must show employees a ‘reasonable duty of care’. This includes taking steps to either reduce or eliminate issues that may affect their employee’s wellbeing. Failing to acknowledge stress or anxiety as part of this duty may cause a claim to be made.

Additionally, failure to make reasonable adjustments to enable affected employees to carry out their job could lead to them taking legal action for breach of the duty of care.

The bottom line here is that what employees need most is a supportive environment in which to work, that looks after their health and wellbeing, not always just a day in bed.

NOTE: This content is provided as general background information and should not be taken as legal advice or financial advice for your specific situation. Make sure you get individual advice on your case from an independent source before taking any action.

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