Staff ‘sickies’ targeted by new law

Workers who routinely pull ‘sickies’ may be dissuaded from doing so by employment law changes that come into effect tomorrow, an employment lawyer says.

From tomorrow, employers will be able to request staff provide a medical certificate after only one day off work. Previously a worker had to have had three days off work before employees could be requested to prove they were sick.

The law change is one of many made to the Holidays Act 2003 and the Employment Relations Act 2000 last year that will come into effect on April 1.

Swarbrick Beck Mackinnon Employment lawyer Don Mackinnon does not believe the changes to the Employment Relations Act will change the way most employees take sick days.

\”I suppose our impression of the law is while most employment lawyers wouldn’t have seen this particular law in need of change, we don’t see it will lead to dramatic changes in most work places,\” Mr Mackinnon said.

\”Our impression is most employers understand employees get sick – they get sick themselves – and won’t be likely to push that button unless they suspected the employee was pulling a sickie.

\”Most employers aren’t going to want to pay for a doctor’s bill every time an employee is sick.\”

But for those employees who suffer from Monday-itis, or are seen to regularly take Fridays off sick – so as to have a long weekend – employers may choose to apply the new law.

\”In truth all it will do is put employees to more inconvenience so will possibly make the employee that is pulling a sickie think twice,\” Mr Mackinnon said.

The changes would unlikely dissuade workers from taking an occasional mental health day, he said.

\”If an employee is genuinely stressed, exhausted or tired and takes a – for a lack of a better term – mental health day, they are likely to be able to get medical certificates anyway. And I think most employers understand employees get run down and need to take a break.

\”It is easy to get a medical certificate.\”

Engineering, Printing and Manufacturing Union national secretary Andrew Little said it was difficult to see how the new law will be applied, but feared it would be abused by some employers.

\”There will be some employers who will want to assert their position and will insist on medical certificates.

\”I think it will encourage workers to come to work sick, or convert what otherwise would be annual leave to sick days.\”

Mr Little said the law could be used against those employees that have fallen out of favour with employers to create a negative workplace atmosphere against them.

\”It really depends on how different employers want to be.\”

The Labour Party’s labour spokesperson Darien Fenton said the sick day change was one of the silliest provisions in the new laws.

\”It was demonstrated to the Government again and again just how impractical this provision is and there was no call from anyone for such a change. Good employers don’t need bad laws and some have already rejected these law changes.

\”Removing the rights of wage and salary earners is not a plan to rebuild our economy and create new jobs,\” Ms Fenton said.

Other changes include changes to personal grievance provision, requiring consent from an employer before a union can enter the workplace, requiring employers to retain employment agreements, and extending the role and powers of labour inspectors.

Ms Fenton believed the changes to union access could impact workers’ health and safety at the workplace.

\”I would have thought the Government would be more concerned about the health and safety of workers, given the terrible loss of life in Pike River Mine and the health and safety risks for workers returning to work in Christchurch.\”


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