A NEW attempt to crack down on absenteeism in Merseyside Police will see officers who take too many sick days barred from promotion.
Any officer taking more than three periods off in three years will not be eligible to rise up the career ladder.
Police chiefs say attendance levels are unacceptable and the force must bring in the new restrictions from January to reduce the high sickness record. The new rules will also affect support staff.
But officers' representatives are furious at the rule change and say their members feel bullied and victimised.
Union leaders warned the scheme could backfire by making staff feel under extra pressure to turn up for work when ill, putting themselves and their colleagues at risk. Some employees are believed to be planning legal action on the grounds that the policy is an infringement of their human rights.
One member of police staff, who asked not to be named, said: "Staff are terrified of falling ill because they know their careers will suffer, but they are terrified of speaking out.
"A member of staff can produce irrefutable evidence that they were not well enough to attend work, but this will not be taken into consideration unless it is something as serious as, say, cancer.
"It amounts to nothing short of bullying. No one can help being sick."
Last year sickness levels in the Merseyside force fell, but were still at an average of 10.23 days off per police officer, and 11.96 days off per member of police staff.
The new policy means that anyone who is off sick on three separate occasions over a three-year period, or for an average of more than eight days per year, is barred from promotion.
Assistant Chief Constable Grahame Barker said: "Sickness absence rates are too high and we're taking sensible measures to reduce it.
"In cases of genuine sickness, we offer a high level of support and rehabilitation back into work.
"This is aimed at rooting out those individuals who aren't genuinely ill, placing a burden on the taxpayer and their colleagues.
"We'll continue to do everything in our power to put a stop to false claims of sickness."
Merseyside Police is also giving grants and loans worth thousands of pounds this year to get sick and injured officers back on duty.
The force has set up a scheme which pays up to £4,000 of the cost of getting officers or staff treated privately for medical conditions.
The rest of the money needed for the treatment can be borrowed from the force by workers for 12 months interest-free.
Last year, the force paid £12,331 and loaned £5,431 to pay for treatments, but managers have estimated that getting the workers back on duty saved more than £180,000 in lost time and sick pay.