Sick leave and absenteeism is costing the Australian economy an estimated $28 billion a year. How much of this is your business paying?

The average Australian is now taking 9.5 days off work annually – up from 8.9 days in 2014 (source: Direct Health Solutions). And if you’re scratching your head questioning if your employees’ sick leave is genuine – you’re not alone. The survey went on to reveal that 83 percent of employers believe that up to three days leave taken every year is not legitimate.

Tips for managing sick leave

Managing personal sick leave and carer’s leave starts with ensuring your employees know their rights and also their responsibilities.

Clearly explain personal/ carer’s leave entitlements in the employment contract and have a Personal/Carer’s Leave Policy available to all staff, identifying entitlement (number of days) and what notification is required when employees take leave.

For example, it is a common policy to request that employees call a supervisor or manager directly to advise they are unwell and will not be in; outlawing calling in sick via text is a good start.

Requiring a doctor’s certificate for two or more consecutive days, or when leave is taken on a Friday, Monday or following a public holiday is also standard practice.

Having employees complete a leave form on return will ensure you have the correct documentation and a record of when and why leave was taken.

Promote sick leave as income insurance

Unfortunately many employees have a “use it or lose it” mentality when it comes to their sick leave. Advise employees that they accrue sick leave progressively throughout the year and any unused leave rolls over from year to year. This can help reduce the trend of taking the full allocated leave on an annual basis.

Talking about personal/carer’s leave as income insurance can help employees realise that although they are entitled to take sick leave, it is wise to save it for occasions when they are genuinely sick or have family emergencies. The employee who breaks a leg while skiing will be grateful they have four to six weeks in paid leave accrual to mend while in plaster!

Understand reasons for leave and take action

There may be underlying issues behind an employee taking excessive leave, and understanding these may help to address the issue. Some reasons can include:

• Chronic illness such as asthma, diabetes, back pain, depression or arthritis
• Bullying in the workplace
• Lack of confidence in their ability to do the job
• Underlying home or family issues
• A drug or alcohol problem
• Low job satisfaction or feeling their efforts are unrecognised
• They are not a good fit for the culture and feel isolated from the team
• An unhealthy lifestyle or struggle with effective work/life balance
• Inadequate childcare or family support

All of these issues are a possibility, and as an HR Consultant, I see them in the workplace all too often. Before we assume the worst of our employees, we should approach them with care and understanding, get to the root of any issues and work together to come up with a solution that works.

Personal/Carer’s leave fact sheet

What is personal/carer’s leave?

The term ‘personal/carer’s leave’ effectively covers both sick leave and carer’s leave. Personal leave is taken when the employee is sick or injured and needs time off. Carer’s leave is taken when the employee needs to take time off to care for an immediate family or household member who is sick or injured and needs their care/support.

The minimum entitlements

A full-time employee – working 38 hours per week – is entitled to 10 days (76 hours) paid personal/carer’s leave per year of service. Part-time employees accrue leave on a pro rata basis, and casual employees are not entitled to paid personal/carer’s leave.

How leave accrues

Personal/carer’s leave accrues progressively during a year of service according to the number of ordinary hours worked, and accumulates from year to year. Any unused leave rolls over into the next year of service and does not have an expiry date.

Leave continues to accrue when an employee takes a period of paid personal/carer’s leave or paid annual leave. However, leave will not accrue when an employee is off work on unpaid leave unless it is community service leave.

Calculating leave accrual

Entitlement: 10 working days = 76 hours. For a full time employee that is 1.4615 hours accrued each week of service.

What happens when all leave is used?

The National Employment Standards (NES) does not make provision for payment of personal/carer’s leave in advance. If the employee does not have adequate leave in accrual and needs to take time off to cover their own sickness or to care for a family member then this leave is unpaid.

Is unused leave paid out on termination?

No. Any unused personal/carer’s leave in accrual is not paid out on termination or resignation.

The first step is to approach the employee in a caring, non-threatening manner, ask them to be honest and to tell you in confidence if there is a problem. Showing empathy when you discuss your concerns about their excessive leave and explaining the effect it is having on the business and the team is crucial.

The next step is to ask them what you can do to help. What do they need to be able to attend work on a more regular basis? Here it’s a good idea to have a few suggestions as the employee will not always be able to verbalise their needs.

Maybe it’s time off without pay to sort out new accommodation, acknowledgement of their need to attend regular specialist doctor appointments, revised hours until they make better arrangements for childcare, or extra training and support to help them better understand their job role.

Or you may uncover something more sinister such as workplace bullying or harassment, in which case you will be able to take appropriate action.

In either case, history has shown me that it is far more cost effective to manage sick leave issues and retain a good employee than to toss them out and start again – only to be faced with the same issues of workplace truancy.

Rewarding employees for unbroken attendance/legitimate leave

Acknowledging that employees will get sick from time to time and need to access leave is important, however it is pretty easy to spot the fake or self-inflicted sickie and reward those employees who only take genuine leave when needed.

The difference between an employee who has shown signs of being genuinely unwell and the employee who calls in sick the day after bragging to workmates they’ll be in a private box at the State of Origin is pretty easy to spot! Along with the employee who turns up with sunburn the day following a Monday off work!

The Bradford Factor, a system used to calculate a score for each employee’s absence, says one-off unplanned absences have a greater operational impact on the business than long-term sick leave. Three to five days off with the flu will have a lesser impact on the business and the team than five Mondays or Fridays taken over the year.

Make employees aware that although you understand they may need to take a day off on occasion due to sickness, doctor’s appointments, emergency childcare, etc, when these are not advised in advance they have an adverse effect on the business and their colleagues. Explaining that genuine sick leave will not impact their “Unbroken Attendance” bonus and encouraging employees to be honest and open about their need to take leave creates a healthy workplace for all involved.

About the author

Lizzy Boots is the Director of Boots & All Consulting and is an experienced human resources professional specialising in recruitment, retention and training strategies for the medical, health and beauty industries.

Bespoke services include: recruitment and selection, human resources support, employee performance management, training and development, policy and procedures, and employment contracts for the niche roles within the medical, health and beauty industry.

Based in Sydney, Lizzy has clients throughout Australia. For more information visit www.bootsandall. or call +61 414 644 463

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