Actually the notice doesn’t say that. It says do you really need to be off sick? Its large and pink and on the wall. Our employer takes absence very seriously, as I discovered.

Now on Sunday morning I had food poisioning. The kind where you really don’t want me to be touching your dinner. So, the requisite two hours ahead of my morning shift I phoned in sick.

“Have you been to the doctors?” was the brusque question.

“No, I know whats wrong with me, its food poisoning.”

“When are you likely to be back”

“I expect I shall be in for my evening shift tomorrow, its probably a 24 hour thing.”

“Well ok then.”

That was pretty much it. Plenty of suspicion that I was faking it or hungover, no expression about hope you feel well or anything approaching humanity.

The following day, recovered I returned to work. So it was somewhat of a surprise when the phone rang on Tuesday morning.

“I want to speak to Claire.” (no please, no greeting)

“You’re speaking to her. May I ask who’s calling?” (naturally I had a fair idea.)

“Its X. Are you better now?”

“Yes, actually I was back in work yesterday.”

“Oh, were you? I’m sorry. Well when are you next in?”

I told her and was fully expecting to have a ‘back to work’ interview when I returned. Still I went in as normal and nothing was said. In fact nothing was said until a week later when I was called in for a so called back to work discussion. From what I recalled of my corporate induction, the purpose of these interview are supposed to be twofold. To see if you are properly fit for work, if the Store can do anything to help you, and to discourage people taking sickies. I wasn’t sure how an interview a week after an absence could possibly fit with the former objective. So I asked if this were a disciplinary interview.

My manager was a little taken aback. No, its not. And she proceeded to explain the procedure, ticking off on the form she had that I had understood the procedure. That absence was taken seriously so each absence had a back to work interview. If there was too much absence it would be investigated – which seemed fair enough – and counselling offered by the manager. I blanched slightly at the thought of counselling from someone with the apparent people skills of a Rhino but signed the form, checking that the “this is not a disciplinary matter” box was ticked. As the manager said.

“Its all in your handbook.”

Now that part of the handbook seems to have escaped into the wilds of my loft office, but the way one day of absence was handled was perfectly clear that no matter the gloss the process is about bullying staff to ensure that they come into work no matter what.