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An employee keeps calling in sick, what should I do?

An employee keeps calling in sick, what should I do? (Last Updated On: November 26, 2018)

An employee keeps calling in sick, what should I do?

The classic ‘sickie’. It’s part of Australian working folklore, and while most people can honestly admit to ‘chucking’ the occasional sickie, others can stretch the limits of their employers by frequently taking sick days for vague or elusive reasons. In some cases it can get to the point where they are no longer reliably showing up to work.
Sick leave is a legitimate entitlement, and many people genuinely need that time to manage their health or chronic conditions — both mental and physical. In those cases employees should be fully supported via the applicable employment entitlements.

But what if you suspect an employee is misusing their sick leave?

Collectively, Australians take 90 million sick days every year, costing the economy $34.1 billion. While no-one can be expected to be in tip-top health all the time, unchecked sick leave misuse can become a serious business issue.

Let’s take a look at Sick Leave, and what you can do to make sure it’s being used properly.

Know Your Current Obligations

The majority of full-time employees, other than those working on a casual basis, can take 10 days of paid sick and carer’s leave for each year of continuous work. Part-time employees are entitled to a pro-rata amount of leave based on the number of hours worked. Always keep in mind that some industrial instruments provide additional annual leave.

Have a robust Sick Leave Policy

The stronger your policies around sick leave, the less likely staff are to misuse it. In many cases, it might be appropriate to have staff verbally inform their managers if they intend to take a sick day (texts or emails don’t cut it) and a doctor’s certificate is required for each sick day taken.

Making employees accountable for their sick days makes them think twice about misusing it. And for staff who genuinely need the time off, meeting these parameters shouldn’t be a problem.

Need a hand developing and delivering a Sick Leave Policy for your workplace? Give us a call.

Document everything

If your aim is to potentially take action against an employee who is taking frivolous sick days, then suspicion alone isn’t enough. Acting on a hunch leaves you exposed.

Keep records of sick days, any documents the employee provides, take notes of any conversations and keep any correspondence so you can identify any patterns in behaviour and build evidence to take legitimate action.

Start the conversation

“Hi John/Jane, I noticed that you’ve been taking a lot of sick time lately. Have you been feeling ok?”

With a sentence as simple as that, you can start an honest and open conversation with an employee about their sick leave, and their health more generally.

There may be legitimate underlying reasons for the employee taking such frequent sick days. Perhaps they are caring for someone, or going through a treatment that leaves them feeling unwell. Perhaps there is a mental health or relationship problem they haven’t felt comfortable raising with you. In those cases other leave options could be made available to them, or even flexible working arrangements that could allow them to manage their workload and hours differently without taking sick leave at all.

While policy and procedure give you a framework to follow, sometimes a more personal and gentler approach can do the trick.

While serial sick days can be a frustration for employers, you do have options and tools to make sure your business isn’t unnecessarily impacted.

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