Employees taking excessive sick leave

Tips for managing employees taking excessive or misusing their sick leave.

There are two common situations that might occur when an employee takes sick leave after exhausting their entitlement:

  1. The first is where an employee is genuinely sick but the frequency and length of sickness may place stress on the business.
  2. The second is where an employee is suspected of mis-using their sick leave and taking the leave for non-genuine reasons. In both cases you can offer your employee sick leave in advance, unpaid sick leave or to substitute annual leave. Note: there is no obligation for you to use annual leave if an employee has exhausted their entitlement.

There are a few things that you can do to prevent an employee from misusing sick leave:

  • Implement a sick leave policy which specifies how the employee should contact you and how much notice should be provided when they require sick leave. We advise including that all employees should phone their manager when they are sick instead of texting or emailing.
  • You may also include in your sick leave policy that a medical certificate may be requested after each sick day. If a sick leave certificate is requested after a period of continuous sick leave of 3 or more days, then the employee should cover the cost of the medical appointment. If the certificate is requested after 1 or 2 days, then the employer should cover the cost of the medical appointment.
  • You may also include in your sick leave policy that a return-to-work conversation takes place when the employee returns to confirm whether the employee is fit for work.
  • If an employee is sick regularly, have an informal conversation with them to gauge whether there may be other issues going on which may be impacting their ability to work, and to signal their level of absence is becoming an issue for the business to manage.

If you do not have a sick leave policy in place and would like to introduce one, or would like to make amendments to your current one, you must ensure all employees are made aware it, and are given a copy to read and understand. Best practice includes receiving signed copies back from each employee, as this ensures they have read and understood all aspects of the policy and gives you grounds for discipline if they are not adhered to.

If you suspect an employee is misusing sick leave:

  • Keep a record of their sick leave dates and whether the sick leave policy was followed. If a pattern emerges for example; showing the employee is taking off every few Mondays or Fridays, then you would have grounds to confront your employee.
  • Have an informal conversation to gauge whether there are other work or personal related issues that may be impacting the employees ability to work. You can also discuss the impact that the employees absence has on the business and other staff.
  • If you have a valid reason to suspect the employee has been dishonest, or the employee is not following the sick leave policy then you can then start a formal disciplinary process.

If an employee is taking excessive leave for genuine reason:

If an employee is unable to perform in their role due to sickness or injury then this may come to a point where the employee is terminated for medical incapacity.

A medical incapacity process requires that a full and fair investigation is carried out to determine the employees’ medical position, how long they would need away from the workplace and whether the business can sustain holding their position open for them.

The medical incapacity process is complex, and you should seek advice before starting this process.

Please contact our Advice Service for end to end support around the Medical Incapacity or Misconduct process on 0800 472 472 or 1800 128 086 (from Australia).


Updated January 2024.

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