Sick Leave and Absenteeism: How Do They Affect Your Workplace?

Employee sick leave and absenteeism has a flow-on effect. Absenteeism could cause a loss of actual wages, as well as decreased productivity in the workplace. There can be impacts on employee morale where a worker is viewed as exploiting their leave entitlements.

High absenteeism can sometimes be a symptom of a greater cultural issue such as poor leadership, workplace bullying, or lack of employee engagement. All these issues require a whole different approach.

It’s important to allow for instances where employees may genuinely need to access personal and carer’s leave. However, continuously high rates of employee absenteeism may indicate other workplace issues that need to be addressed.

In this article, we’ll take a look at what you need to know as an employer when it comes to sick leave, absenteeism, and when action needs to be taken.

Your employee’s entitlements to sick leave

Personal and carer’s leave entitlements are governed by the Fair Work Act. There might be additional inclusions in an employment contract, modern award or enterprise agreement that need to be considered too.

In most cases, personal or carer’s leave may be utilised by employees when:

‘Immediate family’ only includes a spouse, de facto partner, child, parent, grandparent, grandchild, or sibling (or those same relatives of the employee’s spouse or de facto partner).

It doesn’t include, for example, cousins, aunts or uncles, great-grandparents or great-grandchildren. The definition also doesn’t include pets, as much as we may consider them our children and part of our family.

Employer responsibilities

Employees must give notice of the period or expected period of personal leave as soon as possible. The notice period can also be outlined in your Employee Handbook.

As an employer, you may request that notice be given before the start of a shift. Where this isn’t possible, the employee is expected to notify the business when they can.

Employers are entitled to request evidence to confirm that any personal leave is legitimately being taken for the reason specified. A signed medical certificate or a statutory declaration are sufficient forms of proof. Employers must not reject certain types of evidence (for example, pharmacy-issued medical certificates) unless it’s reasonable to do so and the Employer has previously communicated this policy position to everyone in the business. Alternative evidence may be required depending on the circumstances surrounding the leave being taken.

Sick Leave and Disciplinary Action

One of the most common questions we are asked when it comes to sick leave and absenteeism is: when is disciplinary action appropriate?

The Fair Work Act protects employees from adverse action – like terminations and performance management plans – when disciplinary action is taken because:

Disciplinary action related to sick leave and absenteeism isn’t one-size-fits-all. Navigating where disciplinary action should and can be taken must be approached carefully, especially when it concerns employees who have taken a period of personal or carer’s leave.

Disciplinary action may be appropriate where an employee has:

How a solid policy can help businesses with sick leave and absenteeism matters

Personal Leave is a workplace right for full-time and part-time employees. While employers need to understand their employee’s position, they’re allowed to question their actions if they start to see specific trends or patterns around the frequency and use of personal leave.

Having a strong Personal Leave policy and procedure will ensure that there’s transparency from both parties. Then, the onus of responsibility lies with both parties.

Need a Sick/Personal Leave Policy in your business, or are you looking to update your existing one? We can help. Reach out to the team today.

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