8 Steps to stop sick leave abuse today!

Taryn Strugnell, Managing Editor Labour Law For Managers, 28 Feb. 2013

Tags: sick leave abuse, sick leave, leave abuse, leave policy, abuse of sick leave

Sick leave costs South African companies billions of rands every year. And having just one or two of your employees constantly absent from work will see you adding thousands to this kitty.

Follow these eight steps to take control of sick leave abuse…

8 Steps to control sick leave in your company and prevent sick leave abuse

Step #1: Establish a sick leave policy

If employees are off work on a Friday or Monday, or on the working day immediately before or after a public holiday, they must produce a medical certificate. Make sure they’re aware of this policy. Then you can discipline employees for breaching the policy, and also decide to treat the sick leave as unpaid leave if there’s no valid medical certificate.

Step #2: Monitor your employees’ sick leave carefully

Insist that employees complete sick leave forms every time they take sick leave. This’ll help you identify if there’s a sick leave pattern with certain employees. It also provides essential proof if you land up in an incapacity enquiry because of his ongoing absence due to ill-health or injury should you need it.

Sick leave forms aren’t the same thing as medical certificates. See step 3 on medical certificates

Make sure you write this into your leave policy so you can deal with employees who don’t comply by instituting disciplinary steps.

Step #3: Insist on a medical certificate when an employee is absent from work

Ask for a medical certificate if the employee is absent:

•    For more than two consecutive days; or
•    On more than two occasions during an eight-week period.

Make sure your employees are aware of the aforesaid policy. The medical certificate can be from a medical practitioner or any other person certified to diagnose and treat patients and who’s registered with a professional council (e.g. dentist, psychologist, etc.) established by an Act of Parliament.

Step #4: Keep accurate, detailed records of each employee’s absence due to ill-health or injury

Checklist: Make sure your records include:

    The start and end dates of his three-year sick leave cycle;
    A record of the total, and a breakdown of the number, of days sick leave he’s taken in each cycle; and
    Medical certificates for each absence.

Step #5: Carefully inspect the medical certificate

Only accept medical certificates that stipulate the employee’s been examined by the medical practitioner. As a general rule certificates which state “I was informed by the patient” that he suffers from some illness shouldn’t be accepted. The certificate must state he was examined by the doctor issuing the certificate. Make sure your employees are aware of this requirement.

As an example make sure the certificate says something like: "I have examined the patient and am satisfied that he is not fit to work from 4 February until 8 February 2011". The following is not good enough: "As reported to me the patient is suffering from backache and is unable to work".

Step #6: What to do if your employee can’t produce a medical certificate when you ask for one

Treat this as a disciplinary issue, not incapacity. You can charge your employee with unauthorised absence from work, deduct it from his annual leave or make him take the time as unpaid leave.
Step #7: What must you do if the medical certificate is false or has been altered?

You must treat the matter as a serious form of misconduct! You can charge the employee with dishonesty because he wilfully lied to you when he produced a false/altered medical certificate. You can treat the matter as fraud because he produced the false/altered medical certificate to get sick pay to which he wasn’t entitled.

For both charges you must prove the employee knew the medical certificate was false or altered.

Step #8: Take pro-active steps to prevent your employees from taking too much sick leave

For example:
•    Offer flu injections to employees shortly before winter. This can help prevent employees falling ill often in the colder months.
•    Offer regular basic tests such as blood pressure and sugar levels.  This way you can quickly assess any health problems and suggest the employee get medical advice on preventive steps to take.
•    Offer incentives to your employees who don’t take sick leave, for example, a bonus you pay if an employee goes for a stipulated period without taking any sick leave.

So make sure you have a watertight leave policy and your employees don’t abuse this right!

Until next time,

Taryn Strugnell

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