Sick leave and your rights

The management of sick leave within a business, if not done correctly, can have damaging effects when it comes to both the financial and individual performance. While it is assumed that most employees know the basics, Moneybags writer Danielle Van Wyk takes a look at sick leave and your rights.

According to the Basic Conditions of Employment Act (BCEA) an employee is entitled to paid sick leave equal to the number of days the employee would typically work during a period of six weeks.

But the provisions for sick leave do not apply to:

  • Employees who work less than 24 hours a month
  • Employees who receive compensation for an occupational injury or disease
  • Leave over and above that provided for by the Act.

Five basic points that each employee should know

Understanding and knowing your rights as an employee is vital. According to CRS Technologies, these are the five basics you need to know:

  1. Workers may take the number of days they would normally work in a six-week period for sick leave on full pay in a three-year period.
  2. During the first six months of employment, workers are only entitled to one day of paid sick leave for every 26 days worked.
  3. An employer may require a medical certificate before paying workers who are absent for more than two consecutive days, or who are absent more than twice in an eight-week period.
  4. The medical certificate must be issued and signed by a medical practitioner or any other person who is certified to diagnose and treat patients, and who is registered with a professional council established by an Act of Parliament.
  5. The entitlement may vary depending on industry – some bargaining councils provide for leave in excess of the BCEA regulations.

What is the typical protocol or process when ‘calling in’ sick?

The process of notifying your manager very much depends on the system that the employer has in place.  A preferred process, according to Cathie Webb, director of the South African Payroll Association (SAPA) would go something on the lines of:

  1. Call your line manager and let them know that you will not be at work today.  If it is likely to be for a longer period, let them know when you expect to be back at work, and what will need to be done to fill in for you during your absence, particularly if you are going to miss any deadlines;
  2. When you get back from leave, complete the sick leave form, attach your doctor’s note, and give it to the correct person for signed approval, from where it is likely to go to HR for capturing on the business leave management system.
  3. Some businesses run employee self service systems which may include mobile applications which allow you to scan in your sick note from the doctor, and apply for leave via your smart phone. This obviously makes record keeping easier for the business.

“In the event of a query with regards leave balances, or allowances for leave, typically an employee would query with either their line manager or HR, depending on the company structures,” Webb adds.

Disputes around sick leave

“Disputes usually don’t arise around sick leave, unless it starts to become evident that someone is misusing their sick leave allocation (commonly 30 days in a 3 year cycle),” Webb explains.

“Companies have different policies around how sick leave should be reported, and also differ in how they determine their employees actual presence, but issues arise when it appears that someone is often ill on a Monday or Friday, or either side of a public holiday.  Sick leave is seen by many as a “right” to use, rather than to be used when one is too ill to come to work,” states Webb.

The initial addressing of any issues, however, should be between the employer and employee directly, says Debtbusters Human Resource (HR) manager, Melissa Hall.

Should your company take issue with your doctor’s note, depending on company policies, “it is possible that the company may be entitled to speak to the doctor to ensure that the employees has actually been seen, or in other cases to have the employee assessed by a doctor of company choice,” Webb adds.

Sick leave abuse is often difficult to prove. “Many factors should be considered before an employer makes a claim of sick leave abuse for instance – the amount of time taken for each absence, the specific days that are taken (the day before or after a weekend or public holiday) or any inconsistencies for each staff member should be taken in to account,” CRS iterates.

According to Webb, an Occupational Care South Africa and Statistics South Africa study found that an average of 15% of employees are absent on any given day, and that only one in three of those absent are actually sick.

“Abuse of sick leave costs South Africa an estimated R16 billion per annum.  This impacts business productivity at every level. If you are not at work for any reason, who is able to fill in for you, and do they have capacity to do so?  You are employed, because your employer business has a job for you to do, don’t abuse this privilege,” Webb concludes.