Just as most states and territories gear up for the Queen’s birthday long weekend, more than four in every five employers are expecting a spike in the number of employees calling in sick.
Only Queensland and Western Australia will not observe a public holiday this Monday, with the monarch’s birthday observed by these states on 7 October and 30 September, respectively. However, WA had a holiday on Monday this week as it observed Western Australia Day on 3 June.
That means the bulk of the nation’s workforce will have a long weekend this weekend. And while this is welcome news for workers, many employers are bracing themselves for a spike in the number of sick days coinciding with the weekend and the business days immediately surrounding it.
The Australian Payroll Association surveyed 601 payroll managers across Australia, in businesses of various size, and found that 86 per cent have experienced at least 1 per cent of their workforce take a sick day immediately before or after public holidays.
More concerningly, 18 per cent of those polled said that at least one in every 10 workers had taken such a sick day.
According to the association, the Easter long weekend — despite already being four days — is the most common time for sickies against a public holiday, with 26 per cent of respondents stating that at least one in 10 workers had done so over this period.
Smaller businesses less exposed
Interestingly, the association found that the proportion of workers taking sickies either side of a public holiday increases in line with the size of the workforce — that is, the larger the business, the more common this type of problem.
“Just 52 per cent of microbusinesses (up to 10 employees) see at least 1 per cent of staff taking sick leave around public holidays. This jumps up to 76 per cent of organisations with 11 to 50 employees, 86 per cent of organisations with 51 to 200 employees, 93 per cent of organisations with 201 to 500 employees, 96 per cent of those with 501 to 1,000 employees, and 97 per cent of those with 1,001 to 5,000 employees,” it said.
“It is also the bigger organisations that see higher rates of sick leave. Just 14 per cent of SMEs (up to 200 employees) see at least 10 per cent of their workforce take sick leave before or after public holidays.
“However, an average of 25 per cent of organisations with 501 to 10,000 employees see at least 10 per cent of their staff take sick leave around public holidays and Christmas periods.”
Taking sick leave a ‘cultural issue’
A number of the survey’s respondents admitted there was a problem within their organisation of sick leave seemingly being misused by employees.
“We have a cultural issue around misuse of sick leave entitlements,” said one.
Another complained that employees “just take the 10 days a year as an entitlement”, while a third said parents seemed to be “under the impression that they are entitled to paid carer’s leave” in place of childcare.
However, last year, when the issue of sick leave misuse was raised separately, the Australian Medical Association (AMA) told My Business that workplace stresses, bullying and poor culture can often lead to legitimate health conditions, both physical and mental, which can be mistaken by employers as workers simply looking to score an extra day off work.
“As a GP, I’ve found a number of people who are in very difficult situations at their place of employment where they are being harassed, bullied, victimised, alienated and they may well be deemed to be difficult employees by the employer,” Dr Richard Kidd, of the AMA’s Council of General Practice, said at the time.
Payroll personnel best placed on the problem
The Australian Payroll Association’s Tracy Angwin said that payroll staff tend to be the best placed people within a business to determine the extent of the problem when it comes to employee sick leave.
“Who better to ask about sick leave than payroll managers — the very people who need record it across our workforce?” she said.
Ms Angwin suggested that the way to minimise sickies is to enforce a policy of requiring medical certificates.
“It’s interesting that several payroll managers revealed they don’t see sick leave taken very often, as their organisation has a policy requiring employees to obtain a medical certificate if they take a sick day,” she said.
“It is perfectly acceptable for employers to have such a policy.”
Adam Zuchetti is the editor of My Business, and has steered the publication’s editorial direction since early 2016.