When it comes to the issue of leave, one of the biggest challenges facing both employer and employee is the misuse of sick leave. A recent study by Occupational Care South Africa and Statistics South Africa 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.
This is costing the South African economy an estimated R16-billion a year.
“The pressure on the organisation isn’t letting up and employees need to remember that they have a job because their employer needs them to fulfil a function,” says Cathie Webb, Director, South African Payroll Association. “If you aren’t there, someone else has to stand in for you so it is important to take your employer into consideration when using your leave, especially sick leave. Some people see their sick leave allowance as a target, rather than something to be taken when absolutely essential.”
Not only does the abuse of sick leave cost the organisation in terms of productivity, but the employee will have to use their annual leave should they suddenly need extended leave to recover from an operation, for example. Once that is used up, they will then be on unpaid leave, which will affect them financially.
“Employers are much more likely to be approachable in terms of alternative ideas in an emergency if an employee doesn’t have a history of abusing leave,” says Webb, adding that the wisest course of action is for employees to remain within the rules around sick leave.
Also important to note is that companies are not legally required to offer the benefits of additional leave elements, such as study or religious leave. On the contrary, many companies are reducing leave allowances due to the current poor economic climate.
While some companies do not stipulate leave in their contracts, others have very precise regulations and it is up to the employee to know how their company handles the issue of leave.
“It is common practise, and legally required, for companies to detail the number of leave days to which an employee is entitled in their employment contract,” says Webb. “While it is good practice to reflect the leave balance due to an employee on payslips, this is not a legal requirement.”
In cases where a company does not provide leave information in their contract, the Basic Conditions of Employment Act applies. This is broken down into three distinct categories namely, annual, sick and family responsibility. Employees are entitled to 15 working days per year for annual leave, 30 working days over a three-year period for sick leave and three days per year for family responsibility leave, if they work a 5-day week. A six day working week accrues accordingly.
Webb conclude that as an employee of a company the onus thus falls on you to understand exactly what your rights are when it comes to leave. Know what you are entitled to, how it is structured and the rules which dictate it.