How To Deal With ‘Sick’ Leave

As we pass through the half way point of winter 2018, the topic of sick leave is one that business owners are concerned about.

The questions that come to mind are:

  • How many days do employees get?
  • How do they manage an employee who takes an ‘excessive’ amount off?
  • Do employees need to have a Doctor’s Certificate for time off?

This article aims to answer those questions, and give you some other ideas on how to manage it, and reduce the negative impact that it has on your business.

What Is It?

Personal/Carer’s leave is accumulative leave that an employee is entitled to take if they are unable to attend work due to their own illness or the illness of someone they care for.

The Fair Work Act 2009, through the National Employment Standards (N.E.S.) gives full-time employees 10 days per year personal/carer’s leave. The 10 days is pro-rata for part-time employees.

Casual employees are not entitled to personal/carer’s leave, through receive a higher rate of pay to make up for it.

The N.E.S. also allows for unpaid leave.

An enterprise agreement or employment contract may allow a greater number of days, though 10 is the minimum.

When Can It Be Taken?

The Fair Work Ombudsman’s websitesays:

An employee can take paid sick leave when they can’t work because of a personal illness or injury. This can include stress and pregnancy related illnesses.

An employee can take paid carer’s leave to care for or support a member of their immediate family or household who is sick, injured or has an unexpected emergency.

What ‘Evidence’ Is Required?

When taking personal/carer’s leave, the employee must give notice as soon as practicable. This may even be after the leave has commenced. Ideally, they should also let their employer know how long they will be, or expect to be off work for.

An employer is able to ask for evidence that would satisfy a reasonable person.

The Fair Work Act is silent on what type of ‘evidence’ this should be, with the only requirement being that it satisfy a reasonable person.

What does this mean?

In simple terms, it means that an employee taking personal/carer’s leave doesn’t need to bring in a doctor’s certificate to ‘prove’ they were sick. They could bring in a medical certificate from a pharmacist (you may see this written about in the media from time to time).

Personally, if the employee is only taking a day or two off, I think the ‘evidence’ should be a statutory declaration. This is for a number of reasons.

Doing so takes the pressure off medicare, and means that we as the tax payer aren’t subsidising a piece of paper written by a Dr. when there are alternatives.

Asking for a stat dec. also means that your employee won’t be sitting in a waiting room for an hour or so, when they should be at home resting.

A stat dec. won’t cost your employee anything. Most shopping centres have a JP service to sign documents. Or the closest one can be found online. Using a stat dec also means that your employee can spend their time off recovering, and not worry about a piece of paper. Stat dec.s can be back dated whereas a medical certificate can’t be.

And, most importantly, only asking for a stat dec means that you trust your employee enough to believe them when they say they are unfit for work, and won’t be asking them for a piece of paper from someone else. (I though it was only high school that required us to bring in a note from your parents if you took day off?)

An enterprise agreement or employment contract may set out different ‘evidence’ requirements.

Managing ‘Excessive’ Leave

Now this is the part where employers get into the most trouble.

Terminating an employee while on personal/carer’s leave could lead to an adverse action application being lodged against you.

A far better option, and a very controversial one is to be proactive about the whole employment relationship.

This means having managers who have their finger on the pulse so to speak, and are aware of those employees who may abuse their leave entitlement.

If you have a high number of employees who regularly take personal leave, it may indicate that there is something wrong in your business.

If everything is ok on the shop floor, and you have an employee taking an excessive amount of leave, it is definitely time to have a conversation with them.

Talk to them, and find out why they are taking an excessive amount of leave.

Don’t automatically think that they are abusing the system and come down hard on them.

A simple change to the roster, or flexible working arrangements could be all that is needed to address the amount of leave they take.

If there isn’t anything that can be done to help the employee reduce the amount of time they take off, the next step is to find out if they are medically fit enough to do the job. That is a totally different thing, and I will be writing something about that in a future article.

In the meantime, I hope that this article helps you to look at personal/carer’s leave differently, and not automatically think that everyone is rorting the system.