Advice

Managing through the ‘Sick Leave Surge’ in winter

Now that we’ve passed the shortest day of the year, winter illnesses are certainly making their presence felt across the country! With a spike in influenza strains, and Covid-19 case numbers remaining consistent, it can be a real challenge for businesses to try and cover all the unplanned leave. What can be done to help you get through? Our advice is twofold:

  1. Planning and Preparation

One of the best ways to keep you and your team safe and well through winter is by providing a work environment that takes preventive action to reduce the spread of bugs. 

Our ideas on actions you can take include:

  • Provide appropriate sanitary items such as tissues, no-touch rubbish bins, hospital grade hand soap and hand sanitiser
  • create a regular cleaning and sanitisation plan for your store of frequent touch points (door handles, eftpos machines, phones) and common areas
  • encourage staff to get the yearly flu vaccine, consider providing funding or time off to enable them to get it
  • hang signage in common areas reminding people about good hygiene practices
  • encouraging social distancing in your store 
  • ensuring people stay home if unwell

Spending some time planning and implementing the appropriate tools and processes (taking a ‘ambulance at the top of the cliff’ approach) will go a long way toward minimising business disruption this winter. 

  1. Managing sick leave effectively – FAQs

Are my casual, fixed term and part-time employees entitled to sick leave?

Just like permanent employees, fixed-term employees are also entitled to ten days sick leave after six months’ current continuous service. 

Casual employees are entitled to ten days paid sick leave if they have worked an average of 10 hours per week, and at least one hour in every week or 40 hours in every month over a six-month period. They will also be entitled to ten days paid sick leave in each subsequent period of 12 months that follows provided that the above criteria continue to apply.

Sick leave entitlements are not pro-rated. For example, if a part-time employee only works two days a week, they still get ten days sick leave a year.

How do I pay sick leave to my employee with an irregular work pattern?

Payment for sick leave should be at the rate the employee would ordinarily be paid on the day leave is taken. This means if the employee’s agreement says they work 9 hours per day, but they regularly work an additional 30 minutes that day of the week and are paid for this, they should be paid 9.5 hours for their day off sick.

If the employee has an irregular pattern of work, sick leave is payable if the employee was rostered to work on the particular day leave is taken, or could have reasonably expected to be rostered.

When could I consider my employees absenteeism ‘excessive’?

Making the decision to manage excessive absenteeism should only be considered when an employee has exhausted their leave entitlements. 

As with all employment law, the principle of good faith comes into play when managing a situation where you think an employee may be misusing their sick leave. You have a responsibility to be fair and reasonable when approaching any situation, and you’ll need to fully investigate and consider all possibilities before considering that formal action is appropriate.

What happens if an employee gets sick while on annual leave?

If an employee falls sick during scheduled annual leave, the employee can take the portion of annual holidays they’re sick for as sick leave. You can request a medical certificate before changing the leave from annual to sick leave.

When can I ask for a Medical Certificate?

You can request a medical certificate after three consecutive days (regardless of whether these are all working days or not) at the employees’ cost. You can request one earlier for under three days if you cover the cost.

You can request a medical certificate at the employee’s cost for any sick leave (even a day) if they have no remaining paid sick leave.

We would recommend having a comprehensive policy detailing what is expected and required of employees in each of these situations 

A reminder too, that taking care of our mental health and wellbeing is just as important as our physical wellbeing. Retail NZ has some great tools and resources available to help guide you and your team to stay mentally fit here.


If you have any questions on any of the above information or would like further advice, feel free to get in touch with our advice service on 0800 472 472 or [email protected].


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