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Sick leave abuse renders SA businesses unwell

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Despite legislation that clearly defines the management of sick leave for full-time employees, the issue of effective sick leave management and tackling abuse remains a challenge for most companies.
The situation becomes particularly troublesome at this time of the year and it has been reported that as much as 40% of workers in South Africa plan on taking ‘time off’ under the guise of sick leave, which is tantamount to abuse of the system. The issue demands greater awareness and more discipline according to HR and HCM services and solutions provider CRS Technologies.
A dictionary definition of sick leave is “an absence from work permitted because of illness and the number of days per year for which an employer agrees to pay employees who are sick”.
According to the Basic Conditions of Employment Act (BCEA) an employee is – during every sick leave cycle – entitled to paid sick leave equal to the number of days the employee would normally work during a period of six weeks. This is applicable to most industries with some variations in industries regulated by bargaining councils, sectoral determinations or other agreement regulated by law.
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; and
* Leave over and above that provided for by the Act.
The BCEA prescribes that in the case of standard employment, such as a five-day working week, the employee would be entitled to 30 days paid sick leave during each sick leave cycle.
Nicol Myburgh, head of HR business unit at CRS Technologies, explains that there are several aspects that make this area of business management a complex one to deal with.
Some of the more prominent disputes are that employees want to use sick leave from the next cycle before it becomes due since all their current sick leave has been used; employees want to take a long period of sick leave soon after being appointed but they are not allowed to even though the BCEA makes provision for 30 days during each three-year cycle, the BCEA makes provision, by limiting paid sick leave during the first six months of employment to one day for every 26 days worked.
“Patterns picked up of employees frequently taking sick leave on a Monday or Friday. If the employer is in a position to prove that the employee was not sick, disciplinary steps may be taken against the employee,” says Myburgh.
CRS Technologies emphasises that employees need to be aware that according to the law, they may take the number of days they would normally work in a six-week period for sick leave on full pay in a 3-year period. Moreover, 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.
“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. The entitlement may vary depending on industry, some bargaining councils provide for leave in excess of the BCEA regulations,” Myburgh continues.
CRS Technologies has established itself as a trusted advisor and HR & HCM consultant and services partner to various industries.

Standard process
The company reminds the market that the standard process is that as soon as the employee realises he/she may be absent for work due to an illness, he/she should notify the line manager or in some cases HR, depending on the company.
Once the employee has seen a doctor and received a sick note, he/she should inform the line manager of the expected date of return and then upon returning to work the employee should complete a sick leave application attaching the sick note.
When dealing with a dispute regarding sick leave it is best practise for all disputes to be resolved at the lowest possible level, therefore in the case of sick leave it should be dealt with by the line manager, failing that the HR department, failing that the dispute resolution process of the company must be followed.
Myburgh adds that sick leave abuse is difficult to determine and prove, and many factors should be considered before an employer makes a claim of sick leave abuse.
These factors could include 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 also be taken in to account.