The Hazards of April: Understanding Your Legal Obligations

Employment can be a dangerously hazardous affair. What with the rising occurrences of swine flu, bird flu, yuppie flu, man flu, phantom flu, even the near-fatal garden-variety common-cold, and not to mention that most debilitating of illness – the inability to work on the days before or after a public holiday. Whilst the dangers are nowhere more obvious than in the public sector if the headlines are anything to go by, the self-same challenges exist in the private sector as well. As the month of April descends upon us, employers are warned to be on the alert for the anticipated escalation of Public-Holiday-itus. Few are likely to escape unscathed!

If you employ or manage staff, you have very likely heard almost every excuse in the book. Apart from swallowing the urge to prescribe a course at the nearest drama school as your employee attempts another fake cough into the phone, what can you do to control absenteeism? Here are some points to consider.

The sick leave allowance is capped by the Basic Conditions of Employment Act, and is related to the employee’s working hours. Thus someone working full day, Monday to Friday, would be entitled to a maximum of 30 days sick leave in a three year period. The employer may refuse to pay for sick leave taken in excess of this amount. The challenge, of course, is the propensity for many employees to view this number as a target rather than a limit.

A further control exists in the form of the medical certificate. The Basic Conditions of Employment Act states that an employer is not required to pay an employee if the employee:

  • has been absent from work for more than two consecutive days or on more than two occasions during an eight-week period; and
  • on request by the employer, does not produce a medical certificate stating that the employee was unable to work for the duration of the employee’s absence on account of sickness or injury.

There are also certain requirements that a Medical Certificate needs to meet. The certificate must be legible, and must contain the following information:

  • the name, address and qualifications of the medical practitioner, as well as the practice number;
  • the name of the employee, or some other clear identification that the patient was indeed the employee;
  • the date and time of the examination;
  • whether the certificate is issued as a result of the medical practitioner’s examination of the employee, or as a result of information received from the employee, and is based on acceptable medical grounds;
  • an indication that the medical practitioner is satisfied that the employee was too sick to work for the specified period;
  • a description, in simple terms, of the injury or illness. If the employee does not consent to disclosing this information, the medical practitioner must indicate that, based on the medical examination, the employee is unfit to work;
  • the exact period of the recommended sick leave;
  • the date of issue of the medical certificate;
  • a clear identification of the medical practitioner who issued the certificate;

As employers across the country brace themselves for the latest in absentee excuses, you may wish to consider stocking your artillery in preparation for the barrage of Public Holidays that April has to offer. Your Employment Contracts, Policies and Procedures, Leave Policies and Labour Forms can be useful tools to set out sick leave entitlements and procedures, so that employees and employer alike know their rights and obligations pertaining to sick leave.

In Summary: Ensure that you have notified your staff, via their Employment Contract and/or your Company’s Leave Policies, what the requirements are in respect of sick leave entitlement, and that you have made available the relevant Labour Forms for them to lodge a sick leave application.

Please note that this information is supplied for general information and does not constitute legal advice. It is advisable for you to contact a legal practitioner for guidance in respect of your unique requirements.