So one of your workers is taking too many sick days – welcome to the club!
Unfortunately, imposing disciplinary action on an employee for taking sick days can get you into a lot of hot water.
Here are some ideas to help you deal with a regularly absent employee, who you suspect is abusing their entitlement to sick leave.
Set a Clear Policy
Make all employees aware on the appropriate use of sick days. In particular, let them know what the consequences for the abuse of sick days actually are, and that such misuse will not be tolerated in your workplace.
The key message here is that sacking a person for taking too many sick days is probably going to land you in trouble. Sit down and have a chat with your employee. Try and work out what is going on. Is there a medical problem here which needs to be addressed? Is there something in the workplace which might be bothering them? Are they okay? Are they being bullied by another staff member?
Offer flexible work arrangements if you can. If not, then make it clear that you are concerned regarding their absences, advise them of the impact on their performance and let them know that their job might be in jeopardy.
Explain why it’s important for the employee to be at work on certain days and that reliability is an implied part of their employment contract. Tell them how crucial they are to the operation of the business and that they simply cannot continue working at your business with such a high rate of unplanned absences.
If you keep track of when a person is absent, you can make it clear that you’ve become aware that for instance, they keep having Mondays or Fridays off and that this is beginning to look suspicious.
Ask for Medical Evidence
You can ask your employees to give you evidence about why they took a sick day – a medical certificate or statutory declaration is usually the most appropriate form of evidence.
If your employee can’t give you any evidence, then legally you may not have to pay them for the sick day.
Be Wary of Unfair Dismissal Laws
Under the Fair Work Act an employer is not allowed to dismiss an employee if the employee is temporarily absent from work because of illness or injury. You may be liable to serious civil penalties if you sack someone just for taking sick days over a short period of time.
There are, however, limits to this rule. If an employee takes extended periods of time off work and in particular, if they exhaust their sick leave, then depending on the circumstances you may have a reasonable case for dismissing that employee.
In any case, you need to give them a chance to improve, let them put their side of the story to you and make it clear their behaviour is putting a strain on the business before you consider making this move.
Be Wary of Disability Discrimination
If your worker has a recognised disability and you sack them for taking too many sick days you may also be liable under discrimination laws. Recognised disabilities include:
Mental disorders / psychiatric disabilities: such as depression and sleep disorders.
Physical disabilities: such as asthma, MS, cerebral palsy or epilepsy; musculoskeletal disorders such as arthritis or spinal injuries; as well as people with other diseases such as cancer.
Understand how much sick-leave employees are entitled to
All full-time employees except casuals are entitled to a minimum of 10 days paid sick leave per year.
In addition, all employees (including casuals) are entitled to two days unpaid leave for each occasion to look after sick family members.
You cannot dismiss an employee if they are taking leave within these boundaries. If they start going beyond this, however, then you may be able to start consider disciplinary action; though a softer and more measured approach is definitely your better option. For legal advice, call LegalVision on 1300 544 755.