Getting sick is a part of life and happens to the best of us.

While covering sick employees is tough, the last thing you want is staff members coming to work if they’re not feeling well. Not only can they infect others but their job performance and productivity might suffer.

But what happens if you have the opposite problem and an employee is constantly calling in sick? You most likely start to question their motives and honesty.

Are you unsure of all the laws surrounding personal / carer’s leave in Australia? Or what to do if you suspect an employee is not using their personal/carer’s leave correctly?

Keep reading to learn practical suggestions on how to handle someone who keeps calling in sick.

Federal Laws For Calling In Sick In Australia

Laws surrounding sick days and paid time off are in place to protect both employees and employers. In Australia, sick time leave is known as personal/carer’s leave

Under the Fair Work Act 2009 national system, permanent employees are entitled to 10 days of paid personal/carer’s leave per year. Employees rollover any unused time but will not ordinarily receive a payout for unused sick days once they retire or leave the company (unless the employee’s Modern Award or enterprise agreement provides for differently).

Employees can use personal carer’s leave in Australia for the following reasons:

  • If the employee is ill
  • If the employee needs to care for a family member* or household member who is unwell
  • If a medical emergency affects either the employee, family member or member of the household

Employees can use this time for their own mental health. Employers are responsible for funding all paid personal/carer’s leave in Australia.

*a family member as defined by the Fair Work Act

How To Stop Employees From Calling In Sick Unnecessarily

Personal Carer’s Leave is intended to be used when needed. But what can you do when an employee keeps calling in sick? And how do you stop employees from illegitimately accessing the entitlement?

Step One: Document All Incidents

If you suspect an employee is abusing their personal/carer’s leave, it’s important you document their behaviour. Keep a record of when the employee calls in sick including dates, times, and reasons for the absence.

As an employer, you can request evidence from an employee to support their reason for calling in sick – for example, a medical certificate.

Generally, a doctor’s certificate has to be taken on face value. That is, if a doctor says the employee is too ill to work, then they’re too sick to work.

Although an employer can challenge a medical certificate, the circumstances for doing so are rare.

For instance, an employer may be able to challenge a certificate because it appears fraudulent.

If an employee fails to provide requested evidence to support their time off work, they are not entitled to be paid for the absence. An employer can discuss their concerns with the employee and potentially take disciplinary action. (It’s important to note that the employer must also give the employee a reasonable timeframe to produce evidence).

So what do you do in this case?

Step Two: Talk to the Employee

First, you might wish to approach them with a positive attitude. Tell them you’ve noticed they’ve been calling in a lot lately and you’re concerned.

Ask if everything is okay and if there’s anything you can do to help.

Can You Fire Someone For Calling In Sick Too Much?

It can be very frustrating when an employee is constantly calling in sick. It leaves your company short-staffed and puts pressure on other staff members to pick up the slack. But can you fire someone for habitually calling out of work?

In short, you can terminate an employee in certain circumstances.

A dismissal involving absence from work however, can be risky and it is best to seek professional advice on such cases.

Also keep in mind that the employee’s Modern Award or workplace agreement, if applicable, may make provisions for dismissing an employee in this case.

Personal/Carer’s Leave Entitlements In Australia

Understanding the different policies surrounding personal/carer’s leave and other employee entitlements will help protect your business.

Sick and Annual Leave

All permanent Australian employees are entitled to personal/carer’s leave and annual leave. This paid time off is protected by the Fair Work Act.

The Fair Work Act is intended to provide a balanced framework for productive workplace relations which promotes national economic prosperity and social inclusion.

Full time employees are granted four weeks of annual, paid time off. This time is often used for holidays but can be used for whatever the employee chooses.

Unused annual leave is rolled over into the next year. If an employer feels the employee is accruing excessive paid annual leave, they can suggest the employee takes paid time off. This needs to be mutually agreed unless the legislation or relevant industrial instrument permits the employer to make a direction to the employee to take leave.

Personal/ Carer’s Leave

Personal/carer’s leave is an entitlement that allows employees to take time off work if they are ill, injured or otherwise unfit to work, or if they have to care for a family member (as defined by the Fair Work Act 2009) or member of their household.

Under the National Employment Standards, full-time and part-time employees are entitled to 10 days of personal/carer’s leave per year. Any unused time carries over to the next year.

An employee’s Modern Award or workplace agreement (if applicable) may have different provisions regarding personal/carer’s leave than the above. However, these provisions will not be below the minimum standards discussed above.

Handle Employee Sick Leave With Sensitivity And Knowledge

It’s important that you understand the many laws, regulations, and entitlements that surround sick leave for employees. There are good and poor ways of addressing the issue of an employee habitually calling in sick.

From having an honest, open conversation about their health and their ongoing fitness to undertake their role, to initiating disciplinary procedures where processes surrounding sick leave have not been adhered to, there are several ways to handle what appears to be excessive use of personal/carer’s leave.

Need help revamping your current policies or needing advice about how to be more compliant with workplace regulations? The professionals at Employsure can help.