19 Jul 2010

Labour Minister reassures on sick-leave change

9:45 pm on 19 July 2010

The Minister of Labour says suggestions that every employee will have to provide a medical certificate every time they are sick are ridiculous.

On Sunday the Government announced it will amend the Holidays Act to allow employers to ask for proof of sickness or injury if an employee takes one day of sick leave. At present, a medical certificate is required only for absences of three days or more.

The Medical Association says the change could force people to seek medical care unnecessarily, because someone requiring time off work for a minor injury or ailments like a cold or diarrhoea usually doesn't need to see a doctor.

And the Council of Trade Unions (CTU) says it will lead to unnecessary doctors' visits at the taxpayer's expense.

CTU president Helen Kelly says workers looking after their children may also have to visit a doctor to prove they are sick.

She says it's nonsense to make a sick worker get out of bed to go to a doctor just to prove a point to an employer.

It'll be used sparingly, says minister

But Labour Minister, Kate Wilkinson says the provision will be used sparingly and will only affect workers suspected of routinely abusing the sick leave provision - good workers won't notice any change to the current regime.

The minister says arguments that it will lead to increased healthcare costs or overwhelm doctors' workloads are laughable.

And Business New Zealand chief executive Phil O'Reilly says it could benefit workers as well as employers.

Mr O'Reilly says it is workers and not employers who are most affected when an employee takes a sick day. Workers get annoyed, he says, when they have to cover for a colleague on sick leave who isn't really sick.

Under the proposed change, if an employer wants to see a medical certificate, they will have to pay the cost of the doctor's visit themselves. Mr O'Reilly thinks that will deter employers from using the provision.

Change endorsed by employers

David Lowe of the Northern Employers and Manufacturers Association says the change will give employers the ability to manage sick leave when they think it is being abused.

While the vast majority of workers are genuinely sick when they take a sick day, Mr Lowe says, a third of employers who were surveyed reported an increase in workers taking sick leave under changes to the Holidays Act made by the previous Labour government.