Focus on absenteeism: know the facts

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A common issue posed to Australian HR professionals and workplace consultants is in relation to best practice for managing personal leave entitlements, and more specifically those who obviously use their sick/carer’s leave as it accrues.

Sue Kelly, a senior workplace relations advisor at iHR Australia, said effective, reasonable management of absenteeism requires a three pronged approach, namely:

  • A Personal Leave policy and guidelines which clearly stipulate employee entitlements, evidence and notice requirements
  • Effective and appropriate follow up with the employee upon their return to the workplace
  • Education of employees and managers to ensure a clear understanding of policy, guidelines and organisational expectations

It is essential for HR and managers to be well informed of their legal rights and obligations, and to consult the Fair Work Act 2009, National Employment Standards (NES) provision for guidance.

Kelly warned that the utilisation of personal leave is a workplace right and as such organisations should not unnecessarily risk an adverse action or discrimination claim by requiring excessive evidence.

Kelly noted that part-time employees have the same entitlements as full-time employees, but on a pro-rata basis according to their nominal weekly hours. Additionally, all employees, (including casuals) are entitled to two days of unpaid carer’s leave for each permissible occasion.

Notice and evidence requirements

Employers are entitled to request evidence which substantiates a leave request, and requests can be refused if an employee fails to provide:

  • Notice (as soon as practicable)
     
  • Satisfactory evidence (upon request)
     
  • Some awards and agreements may include terms related to the kind of evidence that an employee must provide in order to receive their entitlement (such as paid personal / carer’s leave, unpaid carer’s leave or compassionate leave) – for example, a medical certificate.

Fair Work Australia has provided a comprehensive fact sheet on navigating personal leave entitlements, available here.
 

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  • Kate Connellan on 10/02/2012 4:56:03 PM

    I am an Employee Relations Specialist working on the waterfront. My last 18 months there have given me a lot of time to reflect on these issues where 'the sickie' is an almost enshrined right. We do all the things above but it can only take you so far. Requiring doctors' certificates, notice and disciplining people for not providing them is only treating the symptom, not the problem and reasons for the sick days. Employee Engagement is the solution and can be done with both white and blue collar workforces but requires the organisation (or at least some key people) to be committed to it.
    http://workzenibytes.blogspot.com.au/

  • Bernie Althofer on 16/02/2012 10:28:57 AM

    It would appear that an organisation can have all the 'right' systems and processes in place to address or manage absenteeism. However, whilst there may be some abuse of entitlements by some workers who may for one reason or another believe that taking a 'sickie' is a right and that 'everybody does it', the solution may lie in addressing the workplace culture.
    If for example the culture is such that 'sickie's' are tolerated to the point of acceptance, then co-workers need to understand that it they who pick up the slack, and their own workload increases.
    There may be some legitimate reasons why individuals take the odd 'sickie' and the real reason may be masked because the individual does not want to alert the organisation as to the real reason for needing a 'sickie' e.g. bullying.
    Creating an environment where workers can be open about the need for a 'sickie'is part of changing the workplace culture.

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