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Co-ping with Covid Cons

Co-ping With Covid Cons

Tuesday, August 3, 2021

Dozens of workers at the Nissan plant in Sunderland used fake screenshots to take time off work.

The genuine self-isolation alert was copied on multiple occasions and shared widely amongst colleagues who were looking to take time off.

The matter was recently reported by the Daily Mirror, and it’s understood following an investigation into the “scam” by Nissan’s management, disciplinary action has been taken against those found to have abused the Covid Track & Trace rules.

The original, genuine recipient sent the message with a screenshot confirming his alert to his line manager. It’s not clear how the message ended up in the hands of 59 other workers who used it to take time off.

The incidents took place during the latter stages of the Euro 2020 football tournament which resulted in shift patterns being badly disrupted, consequently impacting production of Nissan models.

Whilst these acts might be worthy of a snigger by many HR professionals it’s a timely tale to highlight the need to be constantly alert to events and trends that may be due to a little more than coincidence.

England performing well in a major tournament would be an incentive for some workers to find a reason not to make their shift and miss an all-important game.  The screenshot offered the perfect opportunity, they didn’t need to be sick themselves just be seen to be complying with Government guidelines.

Unfortunately for the 59 caught scam-ping, the sheer volume of identical messages and disconnect between phone types and image raised a rather large red flag.  Nissan management engaged their version of HR VAR leaving the penalty decision clear cut.

An incredible 900 Nissan employees were isolating at the peak of the “Pingdemic” but according to a Nissan spokesperson, only a very small number faked their Track & Trace notification.

The Sunderland plant closed for its annual two-week shutdown on Friday July 23.

How to Manage Doubtful Absence

No doubt you have a policy in place to cover sickness absence, but does it support efforts to deter those who may consider stretching the truth or blatantly lying to their employer

Recommended measures:

  • Sending a text or e-mail is all too easy as is persuading a third party such as a partner to “dial it in” You should require the employee to call HR or their manager at the earliest possible opportunity once it is known they will not be attending.
  • Fit notes from the Dr if they are off for more than a week.
  • One sure fire way to stop staff taking odd days off is to arrange “return to work interviews” this can be useful if the employee is genuinely worried about their health or work which may be impacting their stress levels leading to sickness.  It’s not always an investigation into efforts to get a day off and you’ll find the process proves to dissuade casual “bunk offs”.  The key is not to have the meeting as a simple tick box exercise but actively engage in conversation and to be consistent in its application.  All to often processes are put in place and managers fail to keep up with them or apply them sporadically and that can create distrust rather than trust.
  • Stalking on social media.  Not a good look.  Even if a member of staff presents evidence of their apparent rude health at a public event on Instagram the dates of posting may not be date of event and there may be mitigating circumstances.  It may merit a conversation but tread carefully.
  • Surveillance – if the matter has become rather serious and you strongly believe they are not unwell you should also take care if a senior executive requests surveillance.  Privacy and security of employees is a primary concern and the only justification for such actions should be based on belief of criminal acts or malpractice sufficiently serious as to merit such a level of investigation.  It would always be advisable to consult your legal team if such circumstances arise.
  • If the sickness record is such that an intervention may prove helpful you could suggest covering the cost of a specialist to help move You could also consider asking the employee to see an occupational health specialist, which the employer would cover the cost of. However, remember that you cannot force an employee to do this unless it is in their contract of employment.

Our overriding advice in these unfortunate circumstances is to take a balanced, non-judgmental approach to your discussions, meetings, investigation and remedy.  Innocent until proven guilty should be your mindset as all too often assumptions and personal feelings come into play and result in very costly and unnecessary results.

If in doubt talk it through with an employment lawyer.

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