Relationships with your Personnel - Are you Sick of the Sickie?

Posted by Malcolm Campbell on 15 June 2016
Relationships with your Personnel - Are you Sick of the Sickie?

Employers often bemoan the habit of some employees taking the good old “sickie” especially leading up to or after weekends or public holidays. Commonly employers feel powerless to do anything about what they see as a blatant flaunting of sick leave.

Whilst it may be perceived that the ‘sickie’ is an ingrained part of Australian workplace culture, employers are not entirely powerless to manage the situation in a more proactive manner.  Section 107 of the Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth) (“the Act”) requires the employee to give their employer notice of taking leave such as sick leave (now referred to as personal/carers leave). Once notice is given of the need to take that type of leave, the employee must, if required by the employer, provide the employer with evidence that would satisfy a reasonable person that the leave has been taken because the employee is not fit for work due to a personal illness or injury affecting the employee or to provide care for a member of their immediate family because of an illness, injury or unexpected emergency affecting the family member.

The evidence of the need to take personal/carers (sick) leave most commonly comes in the form of a medical certificate from a General Practitioner.  Quite often this medical certificate will provide non-descript and effectively meaningless explanations for the employee’s absence such as “unwell”, “unfit to work” or “medical condition”.  Of course none of these descriptions adequately explain that the person is not fit for work due to an illness or personal injury.  However employers will very rarely question an employee who presents such a certificate as to the specific illness or personal injury that allegedly prevented them from attending work and to make the claim for paid sick leave. 

Whilst there is obviously no need to query a trusted employee who is not in the habit of taking sick leave, an employer is well within their rights to request further substantiation of the need to take personal/carers leave from an employee who has a history of taking a large amount of such leave, particularly in circumstances where that type of leave routinely occurs on a Monday or a Friday or around public holidays.

An employer is well within their right to ask an employee to have their General Practitioner provide a more detailed medical certificate or written explanation as to the condition that the employee was suffering from at the time they originally presented to them to obtain the medical certificate.  Unless the employee can provide evidence to the employer that reasonably satisfies the employer of the need to take the leave, then the employee is not to take the leave pursuant to Section 107 of the Act.

The manner and approach that an employer takes to this situation should best be described as a progressive one, i.e. the approach can become increasingly more serious and require a higher standard of evidence to substantiate the need to take such leave in circumstances where a particular employee continues to take large amounts of such leave in questionable circumstances. 

Although employers often feel helpless about the situation, the Act provides employers with the tools to manage employees who are either taking sick leave improperly or are taking excessive amounts of such leave. 

If you are experiencing difficulties in your workplace with excessive or questionable requests for sick leave, contact our workplace law experts to provide you with guidance and assistance to improve the situation with your specific employee and ideally across your entire workforce.  Contact us today.