This morning we’ve had several calls from frustrated business owners asking us “we have employees taking sick days before the public holiday” What can we do….

Here in WA, the Queen’s Birthday is almost upon us, presenting an opportunity for unscrupulous employees to have an extended long weekend.

Unfortunately, some people are going to choose to ‘chuck a sickie’ on Friday or Tuesday (or even the Wednesday). This is means they are taking leave with a non-genuine reason or purpose. Most employees have taken time off when they have been genuinely ill but is there anything business owners can do when this is tails on to the back of public holiday?

The Fair Work Act and the NES – National employment Standard state that employers can require notification from employees of any absence and evidence to support any personal leave they take even after one day. However, there is no provision within the Fair Work Act allowing employers to deduct payment for a public holiday in order to deter or stop employees from being absent on the day or days before a public holiday.

Don’t be deterred by this though there are a number of options available that may help reduce and control the employee absenteeism.

1. Request Notification and evidence

Under the Fair Work Act an employee is not entitled to personal leave unless they:

  1. Notify their employer as soon as practicable that they will not be at work and the expected period of the absence, and
  2. They must, if required by the employer, give the employer evidence that would satisfy a reasonable person.

Except where it is impractical to do so employees should be required to contact their line manager or supervisor if they are unable to come to work for any reason. Notification should occur prior to the employee’s normal start time or as early as possible.

Whether an employee must speak with someone or send a text message or email is largely up to the business to decide. It is easier for an employee to avoid stating the reason for their non-attendance if they are able to simply leave a message with reception or a work colleague. Mandatory voice contact with their supervisor or manager by phone is a highly effective measure in reducing questionable and “Chucking a Sickie” type absences.

Managers and business owner should ensure they follow up on any absence, where necessary seek the evidence required. Most commonly this would be a medical certificate or statutory declaration. It is important that the organisation sets out in a policy and or their employment contract what documentation is expected.

As a word of advice, we strongly recommend stating a medical certificate from a Doctor as the Fair Work can leave you possibly exposed based on the interpretation of “practitioner”.

2. Have a policy and ensure its enforced and communicated

To discourage employees from Chucking Sickies we strongly advise putting policies in place this helps to highlight the expected requirements in employee contracts. Make sure its enforced and rolled out to all your team, refresh this with them often.

We can help you put these in place and ensure they are going to stand up to being tested. We know that most people do the right thing but get one person consistently letting the team down and the rot will soon set in.

One benefit of an Absence Policy is that it can address absence, tardiness, failure to notify of an absence and leaving early all in the one document. It can also prevent misconceptions about acceptable behaviour not clocking in etc.

No matter how the policy is documented it must set out clear expectations of attendance standards including notification and evidence requirements and procedures for investigating and managing absence. This will demonstrate a fair process is applied to all regardless of their role.

It is really up to each business how flexible they are with their policies and it is common to allow a certain number of days of personal leave absence before evidence is required. To discourage employees who are tempted to take extended long weekends it is recommended to always seek evidence for personal leave days taken before or after a public holiday.

Send a refresher communication out to your managers or supervisors the day before telling them what the situation is when a person calls in sick so this is addressed straight away and people can’t argue they didn’t know the process. Accountability is critical.

3. Chat with employees when they return to work

If absences occur around a public holiday, make sure managers engage with each employee who has taken leave once they are back at work.

Based on our experience of working with lots of businesses we have found that having effective conversations after unscheduled absences has a real impact on reducing future absenteeism.

These chats do not have to be formal and can simply be a brief discussion with an employee who has taken a sick day. Managers may wish to welcome the employee back and find out if they are feeling better.

It shows the employee the business cares about them and their wellbeing but also sends a message that the absence was noticed. In a business with low levels of management / business owner interaction some employees may be more inclined to take more days off if they feel that absences will not be noticed or questioned upon their return.

4. What if there are doubts about the employee’s claims?

If you have suspicious that an employee is not genuinely ill the options are limited especially if the employee has submitted a medical certificate. Without strong evidence challenging a medical certificate is not recommended

Even if the employee does not supply documentary evidence there may well be certain extenuating circumstances (for example, their doctor has no available appointments) so the business should make sure they are flexible and give the employee the opportunity to provide an explanation.

Of course, if the employee has failed to provide appropriate notification or documentation for their absence and provides no real reasons for not doing this then you are well within your rights to withhold payment for personal leave. Of course, we would always encourage you to speak with us before doing this.

5. Individual performance counselling

Having a tracking system to monitor employee attendance and alert business owners to any patterns of absence will greatly assist a business in knowing when absenteeism might be an issue. Examples of this may be an employee that regularly takes the Friday off before a long weekend or employees who frequently have unsupported absences.

If the pattern of absence continues or behaviour that is in breach of a policy occurs (for example, multiple absences without adequate notice being provided) then it may be time to escalate the issue to a formal counselling session and performance management.

Talk to us we can help you navigate your short term absence issue and provide practical solutions to minimise lost productivity due to absence.