30th September, 2019
Calling in Sick to Work with a Hangover?!
You may have seen on social media this week that a lot of news outlets, including the BBC, are reporting that a German Court has officially ruled that a hangover is an ‘actual illness’ for the purposes of illness at work.
The case involved a German company that produced ‘anti-hangover’ powders, which contained plant extracts with antioxidants, electrolytes and vitamins, which they alleged were able to combat drowsiness, headaches and nausea, which are some of the main symptoms that accompany a hangover.
The case was brought by a consumer watchdog, on the basis that the health claims being made by the company were illegal. Interestingly, neither party has been publicly identified.
Amongst many other things, the judgement stated that “information about a food product cannot ascribe any properties for preventing, treating or healing a human illness – or give the impression of such a property”. The judgement further went on to say that “by an illness, one should understand even small or temporary disruptions to the normal state or normal activity of the body”. By this, the court was referring to the temporary state of a hangover and the ‘disruptions to the normal state of the body’ that accompany it – i.e the headaches and nausea that the ‘anti-hangover’ powers claimed they could cure.
To briefly summarise the judgement, the court ruled that a food product (such as the powders being created by this company) could not lawfully claim to be able to cure an illness, and for the purposes of these health claims, a hangover would fall into this definition of an illness.
A lot of the UK news outlets reporting on this case have heavily focussed on the fact that the court has ruled that a hangover is an ‘official’ illness, and many allege or imply that, as a result of this ruling, employees are entitled to call in to work sick with a hangover without consequence, as the hangover should be treated by the employer as an official illness.
Unfortunately for employees, this is not the case at all. In any event and notwithstanding any jurisdictional issues, when the court ruled that that a hangover was an ‘illness’, this was in the context of food standards and not in relation to employment law whatsoever. Employees should be careful when reading unofficial news articles such as these, as it is easy to get caught out as the context of a court judgement can be very easily misinterpreted in the absence of legal advice.
For advice on sickness absence management, please contact Claire Brook on 01244 405 575 or email her directly at [email protected]
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