Managing sickies in the wake of Australia Day

Michael Starkey, Graduate Associate

The Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry predicted that 180,000 employees will have chucked a sickie on Monday to give themselves an extra-long Australia Day weekend, at a cost to employers of $62 million. From year to year, it is estimated that absenteeism costs the Australian economy around $27.5 billion – that’s roughly $2,741 for each employee in an organisation. Employers need not sit idly by as their organisation contributes to the statistics. Here are our tips on how to manage sickies and stop a “sickie culture” infecting your workplace.

Taking sick leave is a workplace right… within reason

Under the Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth), a sick employee is entitled to take personal leave (up to ten days per year) when he or she is not fit for work because of a personal illness or injury. Employers should be aware, however, that a number of notice and evidence requirements attach to this entitlement, including:

  • the requirement for an employee to give notice of the taking of leave as soon as practicable and to advise of the expected period of leave; and
  • the right of an employer to request evidence that would satisfy a reasonable person that the employee is not fit for work.

Employers should not hesitate to request such evidence (most commonly a medical certificate) if it has reasonable grounds for suspecting that personal leave is not being taken for a legitimate reason.

Disengaged employees are absent employees

Frequent sickies are often indicative of broader issues relating to employee engagement. Organisations which provide employees with opportunities for mobility and career advancement, collaborative work practices, and a variety of non-monetary benefits are organisations which encourage attendance at work. For tips on building employee engagement, see our previous article: “How to Warm Up Cold Employees: Building Engagement For Disengaged Team Members”.

The importance of planning ahead

It is essential that organisations develop written policies around the taking of leave in order to set cultural expectations and provide recourse for managing employees who take personal leave when they shouldn’t.

Leave policies may require that employees who are absent the day before or after a public holiday produce a medical certificate in support of their absence.

Further, such policies should make clear that employees wishing to take leave around a weekend of public holiday should do so by planning annual leave in consultation with management well in advance of the occasion.