The Basic Conditions of Employment Act (BCEA) makes provision for paid sick leave and for paid leave to attend to limited family responsibilities. It is a sad reality that whilst most employees only take sick leave when they are actually ill or use the time to receive treatment for chronic conditions, there are others who may be abusing their leave entitlements and, in so doing, are costing your business money, lost productivity and reduced staff morale.
Here’s how to ensure that you protect your business and your employees from the costs of excessive absenteeism and abuse of sick leave:
1: Be clear on rules and standards relating to attendance, absenteeism and leave
Although the BCEA contains all relevant stipulations about annual leave, sick leave, maternity leave and family responsibility leave, employees do not always understand exactly how these provisions apply to them, or exactly what is expected from them relating to attendance, absenteeism and leave.
Your employees need to know:
- How and when to apply for any form of leave;
- Who to contact if they are ill, injured or have a family emergency;
- How to contact that person (telephone, text message, e-mail etc);
- When they will be required to submit supporting documents such as a note from a registered medical practitioner or proof of a death in the family; and
- What the consequences of non-compliance with these workplace rules, will be (disciplinary action, unpaid leave etc).
2: Monitor work attendance and leave
Regardless of what type of payroll system or time and attendance system you are using in your business, you need to find a means of monitoring the work attendance and leave patterns of every single employee, on at least a monthly basis. Specifically ensure that there are no patterns of absenteeism emerging amongst your employees, like someone routinely taking 2 or 3 days a month off due to illness, or always being off work for a few days after pay-day. Patterns and trends like this are usually indicative of a more serious problem, such as a chronic medical condition or even addiction to alcohol, drugs or gambling.
You cannot address a problem, if you are not aware of the fact that it is occurring in the first place.
3: Talk about the absence
In order to reduce discrimination and potential victimisation, doctor’s notes don’t necessarily have to state exactly what is wrong with an employee. This does not preclude you as the employer though, from initiating a discussion with the employee to find out whether they perhaps have been diagnosed with a chronic condition that may require on-going treatment and care (and hence on-going absences) or if there are perhaps personal problems which may impact on their ability to attend the workplace on a daily basis.
By just having a simple conversation with the employee, you will not only be showing them that you care about their wellbeing, but in the longer term, you will be creating an environment where everyone communicates better and where it will be a lot easier to take formal steps in addressing chronic absenteeism, should this be required.
4: Cost benefit analysis
In the long run, encouraging an employee who has a cold or flu, to stay off work for 2 to 3 days is a lot cheaper than having them off work for 2 weeks due to pneumonia or having an entire division being unproductive because one employee who caught the flu, ended up infecting the entire office.
Many employees may be too afraid to ask for time off work due to illness and in some cases, may not have any sick leave due to them, but that does not mean that, as their manager, it is not within your discretion to pay them for a day or 2 to recover and get well, as opposed to have them potentially infect your entire staff complement.
5: Access to medical care
Whilst it is impossible for most small businesses to offer medical aid as a benefit to their employees, it is advisable that you encourage your employees to belong to a medical aid or make provision for medical expenses. As an alternative to traditional medical aid, you could research the affordability of primary health care for your employees.
This option usually involves the payment of a small monthly contribution (usually under R200-00) per employee, which entitles the employee to unlimited doctor’s visits and pays for prescribed medications, at the very least. Some plans even include x-rays, basic dentistry and basic optometry, all for a monthly fee that is less than the cost of one visit to a GP in private practice.
In a very small handful of cases, you will find patterns of absenteeism which are disconcerting or you may identify an employee who is more than likely, abusing their leave entitlements. As these are very delicate situations, it is best that you enlist the help of an employment law specialist, to ensure that you are complying with the procedural and substantive fairness requirements contained in the Labour Relations Act (LRA) of 1995.