Is ‘unlimited’ sick leave policy right for you?

One NZ employer is experimenting with a six-month programme

Is ‘unlimited’ sick leave policy right for you?

Media group Stuff is set to test the viability of having “unlimited” sick leave for staff for six months as the rest of New Zealand raises the leave entitlement from five days to 10.

Stuff CEO Sinead Boucher announced the plans in an effort to build a “high-trust, high-engagement model” for the organisation. “In the past we have been more compliance-driven than enabling, so we have begun looking at how we build a culture of mutual trust with our people,” she said.

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The company’s sick leave policy was one of its first areas of reform. While details of the new programme are currently being worked out, it will most likely be trialled in early 2021.

“When our staff are unwell, we want them to stay home and look after themselves. When their child is sick, they should do the same,” Boucher said.

More change is needed
The Government is expected to roll out its own initiative of doubling sick leave credits per year for all other employers right before Christmas, Workplace Relations Minister Michael Wood said.

Union leaders have welcomed the legislative change but are calling for additional reforms. “[The] draft law still needs some work,” said CTU president Richard Wagstaff.

“Currently working people are not able to access any sick leave until they have been with the same employer for six months,” he said.

“This ‘stand-down’ period is simply impractical and inconsistent with the whole purpose of the law; to keep people away from work when they are unwell. Regardless of how long you have been with your employer, when you are sick you should be at home.”

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The trade union council is also aiming to get the current pandemic leave scheme “fixed” so that workers won’t have to go on leave without pay as they await their COVID-19 test results.

Meanwhile, E tū union negotiator Joe Gallagher praised Stuff’s upcoming programme but is taking a wait-and-see approach.

“We’ll have to wait to see the details. Companies say it’s unlimited sick leave, but that’s not practical, so they tend to cap it or manage it to ensure staff aren’t abusing it,” he said.

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