Managing Employee Leave During Flu Season
Of the ten entitlements enshrined in Australia’s National Employment Standards more than half relate to leave. This signifies how important time-off is to our values as a society. But it also explains why managing the various different forms of leave – with all their regulations – can be such a complex process. Throw a flu outbreak into the mix, and the juggle becomes that much harder. But there are things you can do to brace for impact;
- Make sure vital work information is accessible by multiple people. For example, you might want to make it a standard practice that staff regularly update other team members on important projects and store documents in a place everyone can access.
- Have a clear chain of command. The flu can strike anyone, including management. Make sure everyone knows who will take over if this happens.
Sick versus sickie: Identifying concerning patterns of leave
While flu season inevitably leads to a higher incidence of sick leave, there are those who might take the opportunity for some unwarranted time off. The term “taking a sickie” was coined for reason.
It’s important to consistently monitor sick leave so you can spot patterns. If you notice an employee frequently falling ill on the days immediately before or after a weekend or public holiday you might have a problem. The same goes for a staff member taking sick leave on a day where they had previously requested, and been denied, annual leave.
Asking for evidence
If you’re worried about an employee taking illegitimate sick leave you can ask for evidence to confirm they were genuinely unwell. You’re also allowed to ask an employee who applies for sick leave for a day or less for evidence. This can be:
- A doctor’s certificate
- A statutory declaration
- Anything else an employer deems sufficient evidence (for example evidence from other health professionals such as psychologists, physiotherapists etc)
But know your limitations. The Fair Work Commission draws the line at the following:
- A manager attending a medical appointment with an employee (unless the employee asks them to)
- Contacting an employee’s doctor for further information without the employee’s consent
If an employee fails to provide adequate evidence (or has a significant pattern of absences with medical evidence) you can investigate the matter further. You can request they come in to explain the absence and lack of medical evidence or to explain the significant level of absenteeism. Depending on the circumstances you may treat the leave as an unauthorised absence (leave without pay), require all future absences be supported by a medical certificate or if the level of absenteeism is significantly affecting the organisation, direct the employee to attend a medical assessment so you may assess the future impact of the medical condition on their continued employment.
The way employers manage leave varies from workplace to workplace due to the different kinds of services and products they provide. If you need help specific to your organisation, please contact CCER. We’re experts in the employment needs of Catholic workplaces. We’ll help you manage staff leave so that your organisation can make it through flu season with a clean bill of health.
*The National Employment Standards (NES) are 10 minimum employment entitlements that have to be provided to all employees.