After a long couple of years of dealing with COVID we are all ‘over it’. But as staff shortages continue and the latest wave hits as winter starts to bite managing staff absences is critical to get right. With the impact of COVID the real illness and the classic “sickie” has become fraught with additional tension. So the question becomes then: what can you do to manage a sickie? This weeks HR Highlight will explore the steps to managing the sickie.
Set clear expectations
Staff are entitled to be off work when sick, in fact, if COVID taught us anything it is that it is necessary for the business to INSIST that unwell staff stay home, and genuine cases of illness can occur on a weekend, or on a day before or after a public holiday so management should tread carefully.
It is important to set clear expectations. The business needs to clearly articulate that while it recognises the right for staff to be off when unwell, it will not tolerate the planned “sickie”. It is often helpful in this regard to highlight the company policy is in regards to unplanned or sick leave that occurs adjacent to a weekend, adjacent to a public holiday prior to the start of a ‘long weekend’ period.
Businesses should have clear and well communicated policies on the requirement to present a valid doctors certificate or a statutory declaration in these situations.
Discuss the realities
Even with clear and enforced policies around unplanned leave, adjacent to a weekend or a public holiday, it may become necessary for a business to discuss the actual activities of an employee on the day of their absence.
This is a delicate situation fraught with the opportunity for conflict and confusion. Any such discussion and management must be undertaken carefully and with respectful due process.
Sick at the bar?
The modern twist on being “sick at the cricket” tale, lockdown has given us a “freedom day sickie” where the employee that calls in sick, acquires and presents a doctors certificate and but is spotted on the television lockdown celebration coverage or uses a public Facebook account to ‘check in’ at the bar.
Its been seen over and over again from horse races to major sports matches…it feels like a tall tale but it is not apocrypha. It is situation that many businesses need to face.
As was seen in a case recently, when the commission supported the decision by the employer to terminate on the basis of a fundamental breach of trust in the employment relationship, after an employee produced a doctors certificate but instead was found to have travelled interstate for a holiday. This dismissal was made and upheld under the small business code of conduct at Fair Work Australia. This then does not as easily apply to all businesses but does serve to highlight an important point, namely that, while sick leave is an entitlement that is sacrosanct, there is a legitimate interest in the actual conduct of employees while they are on sick leave.
Here to Help
HR Highlights are things to consider, implement and watch out for in your business. They are provided as general information for you to consider and do not constitute advice. You should seek further advice on your situation by contacting your legal advisor. ACAPMA members can access resources and receive advice, guidance and support from the ACAPMA employment professionals via firstname.lastname@example.org, it is free for members. ACAPMA Membership delivers this and more benefits, see; https://acapma.com.au/membership/ for more information.
Elisha Radwanowski BCom(HRM&IR)