Throwing a sickie can land you in a whole heap of trouble

By James Fuller

Throwing a sickie is nothing new.

But getting ill from reading too much and your dog having a nervous breakdown are among the more creative excuses uncovered in a new poll.

The CareerBuilder survey, of 2500 managers and 4000 workers in the US, said employers were tightening up on bludgers by asking for medical certificates or checking on their stories at a later date.

However, local employment experts believe the problem is not so acute in Tauranga.

Thirty per cent of respondents to the CareerBuilder survey said they had skipped a day's work when they weren't ill. Some of the memorable explanations given included: forgetting being hired for the job; dead grandmother being exhumed for a police investigation; being bitten by a bird.

Claudia Nelson, owner/director of the Right Staff recruitment agency, in Chapel St, Tauranga, said she had heard some good excuses.

"The funniest was someone who couldn't come to work because it was raining and their wiper blades didn't work."

Beyond the ridiculous though, she said it could be a difficult area for employers.

"The least pleasant to deal with from an employer's perspective are long, drawn-out family issues.

"It is difficult to be sure if they are true or not and can make the employer look insensitive if it becomes clear they are suspicious about the explanation given."

Mrs Nelson said while she didn't think absenteeism was a major issue, it was something her company screened.

"When we do our reference checks we always check to see if the numbers of sick days taken were within the normal five days a year or not. We try to check whether there are any underlying conditions so at least we are aware of it and then decide if we can manage it or not.

"If you don't check those things, there might be a nasty surprise for the employer."

The number of sick days taken by public sector workers is recorded and the latest figures show they are on the rise. The State Services Commission's log of civil servant sick days show they have risen steadily over the past six years of recorded data. In 2005, employees took an average of 6.5 sick days a year. By 2010 that figure had risen to 7.7 days.

So what is the legal position regarding sick leave? Peter Crombie is partner in charge of the employment and civil litigation team at Tauranga-based law firm Cooney Lees Morgan.

"Both parties to an employment relationship have an obligation of good faith to the other. Everything you do in an employee/employer relationship is governed by that obligation. So, as an employee, you shouldn't be on sick leave unless it's a genuine case of being ill or incapacitated to the point where you can't be reasonably expected to attend work. If you start from that premise you then need to look at each case on its merits.

"Say, for example, you were a manual worker working on a machine in a factory for eight hours a day and you'd injured your back or had an illness which meant you couldn't realistically be expected to do that, you would be entitled to take sick leave.

"That doesn't necessarily mean you're confined to your bed. I don't see any problem with someone on sick leave in that situation going to a supermarket to get food to feed themselves.

"But if you were working in an office on a computer screen most of the day and you took sick leave and then spent it on Facebook and twitter; that, in my view, would be a breach of your good-faith obligation."

Mr Crombie, who has been involved in employment law for 25 years, said employees could be fired for giving false sick-leave reasons.

"I read about one man who took sick leave and spent the day playing golf. Unfortunately for him he was a member of the New Zealand Golf Association and his score was logged on its website. That can be viewed by other members and his employer, who was also a member, went onto the website and discovered his employee had been playing golf when he was supposedly sick. He was dismissed."

He said many sick leave requests were taken on a Friday or Monday.

"If the HR department sees a history of 'Mondayitis' as a company they may decide to investigate." They could even employ a private investigator to sit outside somebody's house and see what they're up to, he said.

- Bay of Plenty Times

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