Sick leave in business requires effective management; its mismanagement or abuse can be detrimental to any company in terms of financial and employee performance.
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.
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.
The BCEA prescribes that in the case of standard employment i.e. a 5-day working week, the employee would be entitled to 30 days paid sick leave during each sick leave cycle.
A sick leave cycle is calculated from the date of engagement up to the 3rd anniversary of that date; in other words, for employees with a 5-day working week an employee is entitled to 30 days sick leave every 3 years. This sick leave does not accumulate from cycle to cycle, after each cycle. All unused sick leave is forfeited.
It is important to understand that sick leave is given by statute as an entitlement; it does not accrue. It is also a form of contingency, so if, even early in their service, an employee requires extended sick leave, the whole thirty days may be taken. In the event that the employee leaves, the employer cannot claim the sick leave back.
However, the BCEA makes provision for this, by limiting paid sick leave during the first six months of employment to 1 day for every 26 days worked. The employer may thus draft the employment contract with this provision, whereafter the three year cycle will commence from day 1, month 7.
It should be noted that the BCEA protects the employer and makes provision for the employer to require proof of illness or injury when an employee has taken sick leave.
If, however, the employee has been absent from work for more than two consecutive days or on more than two occasions during an eight-week period and the employee is unable to provide a medical certificate on the employer’s request, the employer is not required to pay the employee for the absence. The medical certificate substantiates a claim for paid sick leave.
This is applicable to most industries with some variations in industries regulated by bargaining councils, sectoral determinations or other agreement regulated by law.
The Metal and Engineering Industries Bargaining Council Sick Pay Fund (MIBFA) provides for additional sick pay-benefits for each completed day of absence from work through illness and injury which is in excess of the paid sick leave entitlement. Additional sick-pay benefits are payable at a rate of 50% of the weekly earnings of a member for each completed week of absence from work.
Furthermore where a member’s absence from work is not a complete week, sick-pay benefits shall be calculated PRO-RATA for each complete day of absence. This amount is payable up to maximum of 30 weeks. In other words, once an employee’s 30 days paid sick leave has been depleted he/she is entitled to 50% of their wages paid by MIBFA up to a maximum of 30 weeks.
Although little has changed in terms of sick leave regulation (since the minimum was changed from 10 days per year to 30 days in 3 years in 1997), Human Capital Management (HCM) and HR experts are concerned about the efficiency with which this facet of HR management is being handled.
Nicol Myburgh, head of HR Business Unit at HR and HCM specialist services provider CRS Technologies, says many employers either grant sick leave and never follow up to obtain a medical certificate or grant sick leave indefinitely without capturing and tracking this on a system to ensure availability of leave before granting it.
“Another mistake employers make is accepting a medical certificate as proof for sick leave without making sure if the employee was actually “booked off” for the full period of absence,” says Myburgh.
Again CRS Technologies points to the BCEA and specifically the clause which states that 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.
Another issue is that sick leave entitlement poses a risk to employers, Myburgh explains.
The key message from CRS Technologies is only an employee who is too sick to work, may claim paid sick leave. If the employer is in a position to prove that the employee was not sick, disciplinary steps may be taken against the employee.
“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 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, says Myburgh.