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How Much Sick Leave Is Too Much?

Published January 09, 2017 (last updated June 30, 2023) - NZ Operations Manager

According to the Wellness in the Workplace report produced by BusinessNZ, employee sick days cost the New Zealand economy approximately $1.26 billion in lost productivity every year. In addition, employers and business owners will express other implications sick days have on their business such as, additional workloads on remaining staff, inefficient service, and missed deadlines.

Considering this, employers often ask ‘how many sick days are too many’ and ‘how do I reduce the number of sick days my employees are taking?

However, every workplace is different. This means that what is considered an acceptable amount of sick leave in one workplace may be perceived as too much in another.

Under New Zealand employment regulations, employees are entitled to five days of sick leave per year, but only after they have completed six months of continual employment with their employer. It is important to note, all employees are entitled to this leave and it is not pro-rated, meaning even part-time employees have the full privilege.

Sick leave will also accumulate over consecutive years so that any unused leaved from one year will carry over to the next, and so on. The maximum amount that can accumulate is 20 days.

Due to this entitlement being available to all workers, as an employer, you need to be careful in how you manage those who may seem to be taking advantage of their sick leave. It is best practice to ensure you are keeping a sick day register, which allows you to monitor when employees take their leave.

This can then allow you to determine if specific patterns arise such as sick leave consecutively being taken on a Monday or following a public holiday. By doing so, you will have solid reason to confront your employee.

Employees can take a sick day for many reasons. Aside from a genuine sickness, if an employee takes sick days regularly, try having an informal conversation with them to understand if something is amiss at work. Bullying, excessive workload, harassment or even feelings of non-accomplishment can impact employees causing them to miss work.

Implementing a sick leave policy can also help prevent the number of sick days employees take. When forming or redefining your sick leave policy, we highly recommend the inclusion that a medical certificate is required for each day of leave taken, even if only one day is taken off.

Request employees call you, or their line manager directly when sick, removing email, text message or second hand notifications. This ensures they must speak to you directly when wishing to call in sick, and can act as a deterrent to employees calling in sick for illegitimate reasons.

Finally, hold a return to work interview whereby you (or the direct line manager) meets with the employee once they return to work to determine if they are fit for normal duties.

By implementing a strict policy with the above mentioned inclusion, it is likely employees will not take liberties and will only use the leave when it is necessary.

If you do not have a sick leave policy in place and would like to introduce one, or would like to make amendments to your current one, you must ensure all employees are made aware it, and are given a copy to read and understand. Best practice includes receiving signed copies back from each employee, as this ensures they have read and understood all aspects of the policy and gives you grounds for discipline if they are not adhered to.

As the leading workplace relations specialist, Employsure can assist with any queries you may have surrounding sick leave and any other employee entitlements. Call us today on 0800 568 012.

About Employsure

Employsure is one of New Zealand’s largest workplace relations advisers to small and medium businesses, with over 5,000 clients. We take the complexity out of workplace legislation to help small business employers protect their business and their people.

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