Cup Day hangovers: block access to sick leave?

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It’s a dilemma that’s been around for as long as paid work itself – how to deal with hungover employees. Sore heads aside, it’s also a problem that costs Australian organisations a whopping $430m in lost annual productivity.

According to the figures published in Medical Journal of Australia, more than 2.5 million work days are lost to hangovers each year chiefly due to ‘presenteeism’, and absenteeism to a lesser extent. Just 8% of those surveyed admitted that they had taken the day off because of a hangover.

Naturally the reason so many employees are reluctant to take the day off is because many work polices dictate that having a hangover does not constitute legitimate grounds for sick leave – perhaps based on the flawed logic that it’s self-inflicted. Also, it looks and sounds bad. But as workplace experts attest, employees are entitled to access sick leave for a hangover, or any other sickness which prevents them from presenting for work. “The whole purpose of sick leave is ‘if you’re sick – don’t come to work!’ If the employee is sick, it doesn’t matter why,” Linda Norman of HR Plus Consultants told HC.

Placing a clause in an employee’s contract specifying that a hangover is not a valid excuse for the purpose of securing paid sick leave is in direct contravention of the Fair Work Act.

Employers do have the right to request a medical certificate at any time and they may impose rules as to when this documentation is necessary. However, Norman said that “the employee does have the right to provide a statutory declaration in lieu of a medical certificate and there probably isn’t anything the employer can do about it”.

Despite this, however, the hangover sickie is not something many self-respecting, career-driven employees resort to very often. In January this year concern was voiced by the NSW Business Chamber when Australia Day fell on a Thursday. Stephen Cartwright, CEO of the chamber, warned employees who planned to take a ‘sickie’ on the Friday that they would be fooling no-one.

“Anybody who takes a ‘sickie’ on the Friday after Australia Day is not going to go unnoticed by their employer or their colleagues and it is likely to damage their professional reputation,” he said.

What to do?

Employers may be best to recognise that occasionally an employee may suffer the ill-effects of a hangover and will therefore be an unproductive and distracting influence at workplace (not to mention a safety risk!).

HR may be best off re-wording any out-dated polices: if employees are too hungover to work productively, take a sick day and don’t come to work – but also be prepared to provide a medical certificate if asked.

-Patrick Durrant

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