Sick leave and medical certificates

Posted in: News- Jul 31, 2010 Comments Off

Currently an employer can not ask for a medical certificate for an absence within 3 consecutive calendar days unless there is reason to believe the absence is not genuine, the employee is promptly advised of the need to provide a medical certificate and the employer pays for the employee’s reasonable costs of providing the certificate. This is a source of frustration for employers when an employee is absent and the justification for the absence is doubtful. The Government is offering some modest relief.

Currently an employer can not ask for a medical certificate for an absence within 3 consecutive calendar days unless there is reason to believe the absence is not genuine, the employee is promptly advised of the need to provide a medical certificate, and the employer pays for the employee’s reasonable costs of providing the certificate. This is a source of frustration for employers when an employee is absent and the justification for the absence is doubtful.

The fundamental issue here is that since 2003 the employer has really lost the ability to decline sick leave applications and withhold the associated payment. The Act effectively grants the sick leave to the employee who can use it as they see fit, leaving the employer to later attempt to claim back any leave which can be proved to be unjustified.

The Government is offering some relief, but it’s very modest. An employer will be able to ask for a medical certificate for an absence of less than 3 days, but the employer will have to pay the cost of obtaining the certificate.

This has got the medical profession up in arms, but this situation will be no different from what happened pre-2003. Employers don’t ask their employees for a medical certificate when they have a reasonable trust based relationship with them. It’s only the exceptional cases where there is good cause to ask for a certificate. We seemed to manage that well enough before 2003 and the fact the employer will have to pay for the certificate will curtail the number of cases to a large degree.

The EPMU National Secretary, Andrew Little, claims this is a backward step in workplace relations and shows that employers don’t trust their employees. In some cases that’s exactly the position, but of course in the vast majority of situations employers trust their employees on such matters many times every day of the week.

This change may have no impact at all. The only thing that seems to be changing is that the employer doesn’t need to have grounds for believing the sickness is not genuine.

As an aside, in a stunning piece of investigative journalism in last week’s Sunday paper titled “The Lengendary NZ Sickie” it was revealed that the average number of sick days taken per year is 4.6 in the private sector and 9.7 in the public sector, compared with Australia at 8.6 days. The statutory minimum entitlement in NZ is 5 days, with 10 days being standard in the public sector, with the statutory minimum in Australia being 10 days. So all this confirms yet again is that on average and regardless of the jurisdiction, employees use virtually all the paid sick leave they have available to them.

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