How can I stop workmates throwing suspicious sickies?

Question: I work in a hospital and colleagues are predisposed to calling in sick on days that bookend their free weekend or a stretch of days rostered off work, leaving early on a Friday or putting in a no-show.

I, and others, have had to work marathon shifts for absent colleagues while fatigued and sleep-deprived.

Dishonest sick leave takers are abusing an altruistic safety net and imposing risks to others who have to shoulder additional clinical work.

Is there are better way of managing overtime?
Is there are better way of managing overtime?Credit:Nic Walker

Is it worth considering sick leave be paid at half-to-three-quarters full pay, and the difference paid to a locum who can turn up for work at short notice?


Answer: This is a really difficult one for a number of reasons.

The first is the subject matter. There are few things more important than people’s health, and to hear that the wellbeing of often-vulnerable hospital patients is being compromised in such a way is deeply concerning.

The second is that the question we’ve printed here is really only a fraction of the information you’ve provided. While I can’t disclose much because it would jeopardise your anonymity, I can say that the situation you’ve outlined sounds complex and personally distressing.

I spoke with Professor Joellen Riley Munton from the Faculty of Law at University of Technology Sydney about your case.

“The Fair Work Act provides 10 days’ paid personal/carers leave to permanent staff for each year of service, and some people will be covered by an enterprise agreement that provides more leave than that. So you can’t stop people from taking legitimate leave at full pay,” Professor Munton explains.

“Nevertheless, the Fair Work Act does allow for employers to require documentary proof of the need to take these absences. The colleagues who are allegedly abusing the system could be required to provide evidence of illness.”

Illustration: John Shakespeare
Illustration: John Shakespeare Credit:

I think you have a right to be disappointed with, and even angry at, colleagues you know aren’t doing the right thing. There appears, though, to be a major system failure here.

Management intervention, Professor Munton says, could include notifying employees that there’s a problem with leave management and implementing a better system of leave substantiation. Those in charge may need to make it mandatory for leave takers to submit “medical certificates or statutory declarations attesting to their genuine need to take leave”.

But there’s a good chance this is a far-reaching problem that might require more substantial measures. If it’s simply about a number of individuals acting dishonestly, human resources should arrange to meet with those who appear to be taking excessive leave and speak with them about the practice, Professor Munton says.

It is “perfectly legitimate” for HR to make such enquiries and ask an employee who is, for example, regularly using up all of their leave, to account for their absences.

“It is a breach of a person’s employment contract to take sick leave when not sick, and you can be sacked for it if you have been given proper warnings but persist and cannot give a good account of your behaviour,” Professor Munton says.

“Some people have been caught out, posting holiday snaps on social media when they are supposed to be on sick leave. When they are sacked, the Fair Work Commission shows very little compassion.”

However, this could also be a case of absences being a symptom of a broken work machine (albeit a symptom exacerbating the problem) rather than the sole cause of it.

“Perhaps understaffing is contributing to creating an environment in which staff are not showing up to work whenever they can get away with it. Management need to make sure that the facility is adequately staffed, bearing in mind that people will need to take certain kinds of leave in the course of a year.”

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