Sick Leave

Sick leave.  Who gets it, what should someone be doing to get it, and what can I do if I think someone is chucking sickies?

First of all, some Fair Work Act basics:

  • All permanent employees accrued 10 days per year of personal leave. This will be pro rata for permanent part-timers.
  • This accrues if it’s not used, without limit.
  • Personal leave is for sick leave (the employee is not fit for work) and carer’s leave (an immediate family or household member requires medical care).
  • The employee must notify their employer of their absence and the expected length of their absence.
  • An employer can ask for proof of absence for every absence.
  • Accrued personal leave does not have to be shown on a pay slip, but they are entitled to this information upon request.

Beyond this, it can help for a company to have a personal leave policy.  This can help put boundaries in place, which suit your workplace, around notification, what sort of proof of absence is required, and when.

Increasingly, employees are texting their bosses to say that they’re going to be off sick, or worse still, texting a co-worker to ask them to tell the boss.  Your policy can say that you must phone your immediate boss directly, and by what time.

Your personal leave policy can specify what it considers appropriate evidence.  This can be a medical certificate, or a statutory declaration.  The Fair Work Act allows “proof that would satisfy a reasonable person”.  I once forwarded photos of my car accident to my employer, which were accepted as proof of absence.  So it does pay to keep an open mind.

Every absence includes every absence, even if it is a single day, even if it’s just after lunch because “I don’t feel well”.  Every absence.  However, some companies find this a bit Draconian, so you may prefer to go with requiring proof of absence on Fridays and Mondays (common “sickie” days), before and after a public holiday, or if the personal leave goes beyond a single day.  You may want to discuss your workplace needs with this issue, as it might depend upon what problems you are experiencing.

Companies are not entitled to know why their employee is off work, only that they are not fit for work, or are caring for someone.  Exceptions to this may include food handling roles, or employees who work with vulnerable people such as children, or the aged.  Then the policy needs to specify what types of illness the employer needs to be notified of.  This might include gastro or the flu.

If you have someone taking what you suspect are “sickies” there can be a number of steps you can take to curb this.  Use your policy.  If they are notifying you, ask why not.  If they aren’t providing proof of absence, ask why not?  The first time these things happen, this will be a sit down and have a talk session, with two copies of your personal leave policy – with one to be signed and placed on file, and the other to be signed and given to the employee.  Then next time, there isn’t the excuse of “I didn’t know”.  Also, it’s not just your problem employee this needs to be done with.  All employees have to be treated the same for your approach to be defendable.

Sick leave needs to be treated carefully, as there are Equal Opportunity issues as well.  If in doubt, talk to a professional.  Like me!