Managing Absent Employees

In this circular we discuss what employers can do to manage personal/sick leave and to reduce absenteeism.

Permanent employees are entitled to take paid personal/sick leave (up to 10 days per year for full-time employees and pro-rata for part-time employees) when they are ill or injured, when they need to care for an immediate family or household member who is sick or injured, or due to family emergencies. In most instances the claims are legitimate. However, some employees might request taking personal leave when they are not genuinely sick, and you then notice a regular pattern of absenteeism is developing (for example always absent on a Monday or Friday). It is important to act immediately, before it negatively impacts your staff culture and business operation.

Here are some practical tips that could be taken (see further explanations below):

  • Request supporting evidence for absences
  • Implement a personal leave policy
  • Check in with your employee/s regularly
  • Understand the reason/s for the absences
  • Direct the employee to attend an independent medical assessment if appropriate

When an employee calls in sick, it is a good strategy to request supporting evidence. Under the Fair Work Act, employers can require an employee to provide evidence that would satisfy a reasonable person that the employee is not fit for work because of a personal illness, or personal injury. Medical certificates or statutory declarations are examples of acceptable forms of evidence.

If not already, you should implement a workplace policy outlining your expectations on how personal leave is to be notified and the evidence required. If an employee is absent for a long period of time, consider checking in with the employee regularly to get an update of the current status and the expected date of return.

Understanding and ascertaining the reason/s for your employee’s absence is important. To this end, your policy can require an employee to notify absences via phone call so you or the Manager can have a conversation with the employee. This can also help to fulfil your workplace health and safety obligations, in the event that the absence is work-related or due to workplace bullying/harassment.

If you suspect your employee is not genuinely sick and the medical certificate does not provide sufficient information for your assessment, you can ask for the employee’s consent for you to obtain further information from the doctor. If the employee does not consent, an alternative option is to arrange and direct the employee to attend an independent medical assessment.

If you have concerns about the authenticity of a medical certificate (for instance you received a medical certificate without the doctor’s provider number or signature), you can contact the doctor/clinic to confirm the authenticity of the certificate. However, the doctor cannot provide further information regarding the medical condition or history without the patient’s express consent. You can take disciplinary action (up to and including termination of employment) if you have evidence suggesting that an employee is dishonest by producing a fraudulent medical certificate.

Most employers are aware that they cannot take adverse action against an employee because they are temporarily absent from work due to illness or injury. Total unpaid absences for illness or injury less than 3 months (continuous or within a 12 month period – without taking into account the days on paid personal/carer’s leave) are considered temporary absence. Nonetheless, it is reasonable and sensible for employers to take steps discussed in this circular if “habitual absenteeism” exists in the workplace.

If you have any questions or would like to discuss further, please email [email protected]

This Circular is produced for guidance purposes only and is not a substitute for legal advice. Legal advice should be sought for individual circumstances. For tailored advice for your Practice, please contact us.