Hung-over can claim sick leave

April 23rd, 2012 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

Craig Mundy-Smith and Mark Robotham at Stuff reports:

Q: An employee phoned this morning saying that he was sick and couldn’t come into work. I know for a fact that he was drinking heavily last night and I think he’s just hung-over. What can I do about it?

A: While some may think that an employee who takes to recover from a bad hangover is committing an act of misconduct, this is not the case. An employee who is hung-over is just as entitled to claim as an employee with the flu. Your employee may even admit they are hung-over, without comeback.

Parliament didn’t include a definition of the term “sick” in the Holidays Act 2003.

When the Court of Appeal was last asked to define the meaning of “sick” it held that “sick” means “unfitness for health reasons of any nature and however caused”.

While there may be a moral distinction between self-induced sickness such as a hangover and other forms of sickness or injury, there is no legal distinction.

Furthermore, “sickness” caused by a hangover is a legitimate reason for a GP to provide the employee with a medical certificate.

It may be cold comfort, but by taking sick leave your employee is probably doing the “right” thing. Most workplaces deem reporting to work while under the influence of alcohol to be serious misconduct.

An employee with a thumping headache and the “dry horrors” is still under the influence of the alcohol in their system. They should not be at work in that state.

I didn’t know this, and it might be an issue for Parliament to look at in their next review of . There should be a distinction between self-induced sickness, and accidental sickness.

Some employers, such as airlines, have alcohol policies that class drinking in the eight hours preceding work to be serious misconduct. Employers whose employees work in safety sensitive areas, or around hazardous materials, should consider introducing such policies.

I wonder if an employer could discipline an employee who is sick due to a hang-over – not for taking sick leave, but for their actions in causing themselves to be unable to work. The “good faith” nature of an employment agreement would suggest that an employee who is constantly sick due to drinking alcohol, would be in breach.

If this is an irregular occurrence, “suck it up” and let it pass. You do not want a hung-over person at work and everyone has the right to go celebrate once on a while.

I tend to agree with that.  Sometimes a week night turns a bit messy, and you are affected the next day. They key thing is this should be rare.

I can’t recall ever taking a full day off due to a hang-over. Once I didn’t make it in until 10.30 am, but to be fair we had only stopped drinking at 6 am. Usually a hang-over is worn off by midday.

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32 Responses to “Hung-over can claim sick leave”

  1. James Stephenson (2,173 comments) says:

    There should be a distinction between self-induced sickness, and accidental sickness.

    Now there’s a slippery slope, if ever I saw one. Hospitalising oneself by deliberately riding like a muppet on a motorbike without adequate safety gear…?

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  2. Graeme Edgeler (3,289 comments) says:

    an employee who is constantly sick due to drinking alcohol, would be in breach.

    Mostly solved by the sick limit allowance being 5 days a year.

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  3. Longknives (4,737 comments) says:

    “Usually a hang-over is worn off by midday”

    Sheesh… a big night and I’m wrecked for 24 hours!

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  4. Kimble (4,438 comments) says:

    This isnt really a problem.

    Missing work after consuming too much alcohol is no different to missing work because you ate Indian food you know doesnt agree with you.

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  5. Brian Smaller (4,023 comments) says:

    Usually a hang-over is worn off by midday.

    Either you are back on the piss at lunchtime, or you are not as old as me.

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  6. CJPhoto (221 comments) says:

    Self induced sickness –
    Would that include sporting injury’s?
    What about the guy in the office who only ever eats big mac’s and coke and seems to get a cold every second week?
    What about the obese? or anorexic? (Just assuming they take more sickleave than fit, healthy people)

    In my experience, most employers waive the 5 day limit where the sickness is genuine and you havent taken the pi$$ in the past.

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  7. rouppe (971 comments) says:

    Trying to categorise would be fraught with danger. Playing rugby is dangerous. People have died playing rugby. If you get injured playing rugby and can’t come to work, this is just as self-induced as drinking yourself stupid.

    You need to look at the incidence of this. The vast, vast majority of working people do not end up hung over the morning of work. Why instigate a hugely expensive and beuracratic mechanism to deal with a tiny moniroty problem.

    This should be dealt with as a performance matter. If an individual is consistently abusing sick leave, it should be dealt with directly in the performance review.

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  8. Scott (1,792 comments) says:

    Can I come and work for you guys? I can get drunk and then not go to work and you are going to pay for my day off? That’s brilliant! Everyone should come and work for you guys!

    Seriously you guys are muppets. Who wants to pay for someone-a whole days pay-because they are too hung over to come to work? Can everyone who actually employs people comment on this please.

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  9. Ryan Sproull (7,115 comments) says:

    If you use up your five days’ sick leave with hangovers, you’ll be pretty fucked when you actually get sick.

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  10. Kimble (4,438 comments) says:

    Who wants to pay for someone-a whole days pay-because they are too hung over to come to work?

    1. You cant police it.
    2. Even if you could, your employee certainly wouldnt appreciate it.
    3. The employee doesnt exactly get a free pass.
    4. They do it now anyway.

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  11. Ryan Sproull (7,115 comments) says:

    The difference between being sick and being hungover may be a moral one, not a legal one, but the difference between being seen as a reliable worker and an unreliable worker is a practical one, not a theoretical one.

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  12. gravedodger (1,566 comments) says:

    Just as Muldoon risked a charge of being drunk in charge of a country, one of my current employees is very close to a warning for being in charge of a sheaf of papers at question time in the Legislature where he is currently working, while under the influence of a substance that appears to detrimentally influence his abilities.

    Memo to self, must check with the HR division as to steps available.

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  13. kowtow (8,439 comments) says:

    Divorcing morality from legislation, courts now defending a lack of personal responsibilty and the need to be held accountable for our own actions.
    The language of modern “rights” ie “just as entitled to claim sick leave as…..” and “every one has the right to celebrate….”.

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  14. Pete George (23,559 comments) says:

    There should be a distinction between self-induced sickness, and accidental sickness.

    Gets very difficult to differentiate, and police.

    There’s other ways of self inflicting a reason not to work, including over indulgence in exercise. Or love.

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  15. gazzmaniac (2,307 comments) says:

    One of my coworkers was recently dismissed for blowing 0.02 (less than the drink driving limit of 0.05 in QLD and much less than the 0.08 in NZ). Naturally our team is disappointed with the management decision since he wasn’t that drunk but the company I work for used OH&S to get rid of him.
    He was also a really good member of the team and we were all shocked to see him go – our line manager and her superior tried hard to retain him but to no avail.

    So yes, they can dismiss someone who turns up to work blowing numbers, even if those numbers are particularly low. We all take sick days instead and work doesn’t get done, but the company seems to prefer this.

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  16. krazykiwi (9,186 comments) says:

    Hangover sick leave is a concern for organisations that measure worker inputs.

    Smarter organisations don’t care about inputs, and instead find ways to measure and reward outputs.

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  17. adze (2,126 comments) says:

    That’s interesting. It wouldn’t make much difference for me though, I hate the feeling of being hung over so much I’d rather be at work anyway :)

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  18. Scott (1,792 comments) says:

    “1. You cant police it.
    2. Even if you could, your employee certainly wouldnt appreciate it.
    3. The employee doesnt exactly get a free pass.
    4. They do it now anyway.”

    What a lot of bollocks Kimble! You can police it. Where were you? How come you weren’t at work? Questions like that really.
    Whether your employee appreciates it or not is not the point. As an employer I would not appreciate paying for someone who is not there and is not there because of their own stupidity.
    “The employee doesn’t exactly get a free pass”. In your world it sounds like they do. Don’t come to work, someone else will have to do your job and I will pay you sick leave as well. If that is not a free pass, what is?
    “They do it now anyway”. Well bugger me. So we just let it slide do we?

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  19. Kimble (4,438 comments) says:

    What a lot of bollocks Kimble! You can police it. Where were you? How come you weren’t at work? Questions like that really.

    *cough* *cough*, yeah, I picked up a bad cold, cant make it in. Sorry.

    Best you can demand is a doctors certificate. Which they can get easily enough, so thats a waste of everyones time.

    Whether your employee appreciates it or not is not the point.

    Its only the point if you want to maintain a good relationship with your employee. Of course, if you dont care about that…

    Don’t come to work, someone else will have to do your job and I will pay you sick leave as well. If that is not a free pass, what is?

    And if you suspect they are just hung over and constantly chucking sickies, what will you think of their application when a chance for a promotion comes up? Or when they ask for a pay rise?

    Well bugger me. So we just let it slide do we?

    They have 5 sick days. I plan for every one of them being used, just like I plan for all holidays being taken. If they want to waste one of those 5 days chucking a sickie, oh well, their call. Its too costly to stop it happening.

    You really havent thought too deeply about this issue.

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  20. SHG (316 comments) says:

    I didn’t know this, and it might be an issue for Parliament to look at in their next review of employment law. There should be a distinction between self-induced sickness, and accidental sickness.

    For the past four years I have managed to avoid working 5 days a week in an open-plan office filled with other people. I either work from home or I work in the city in a building where I have an office with a door that I close, and I basically don’t interact with anyone else while I’m there.

    I think I’ve been sick three times the past four years. It’s been awesome.

    Cold and flu infections are entirely avoidable. Going in to work makes you sick.

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  21. Kimble (4,438 comments) says:

    Going in to work makes you sick.

    No kids, I assume.

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  22. tvb (4,417 comments) says:

    Once a year a person can claim sick leave for a hangover. Next time they get a warning and an alcohol assessment. More than that they have a drinking problem and may have to be dismissed.

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  23. Fost (102 comments) says:

    @Scott – yes you can police it – the DoL own Employment Agreement has the employer able to request the employee go to a doctor at the Employer’s cost if the employer did not think the sickness was genuine – but here’s the clincher – the employee has to go WITHIN THREE days of being notified – like that has any chance of working. There are many reasons why an employee chooses not to come to work, and as long as they don’t abuse the privilege, good employers ignore it.

    Everyone gets their 5 days sick leave, once used up it’s gone – I’ve used it as ‘mental health days’ – not physically sick, but sick of work. Consider the 5 sick days entitlement a cost of business, I know all businesses do. When I was HR manager, the employment agreement required a medical certificate if there was a pattern of taking sick leave – covers Monday-itis or Friday-itis easy – just they have to pay $30 each time they wanted that day off, almost all then stopped.

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  24. big bruv (13,884 comments) says:

    I don’t think I have had a booze induced sick day in my life.

    Mind you, I have never had a job that I hated so I guess that might make a difference.

    While I am on that subject, might it be that only the left (generally losers) hate their jobs?, might it be that they are too fucking lazy to spend their time and money bettering themselves so they can get out of a job they hate?

    Just a thought…

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  25. Lipo (229 comments) says:

    Easy Fix
    Get rid of sick days

    Can’t see any reason why employees should not fund sick days themselves

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  26. rolla_fxgt (311 comments) says:

    David, next do you want the govt to go after the “mental health day” sick leave too?

    The question you have to ask is, would you rather have someone at work who’s hungover (or quite possibly still legally drunk), and could be a risk to other staff (especially in a manufacturing enviroment), and is largely unproductive, or would you rather they be embarrassed about it, and take a day of sick leave?

    I know which one I’d rather happen.

    Besides if you had a hungover person at work, and they caused someone else to be hurt, it’d be the company on the hook for the injury under the HSE act.

    Its not a big problem in NZ, everyone has a big night by accident once in awhile, and may need to take the day off, if its every friday, or monday, as I know some people do, then get a medical cert, and be straight with them and tell them, that your watching them, and if they continue, start the disciplinary process to get rid of them, woudn’t be hard to do. As long as you follow the law, which again isn’t too hard to do.

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  27. RRM (9,917 comments) says:

    That’s a good scam. Get paid for being a hung-over arse. All it need cost you is your self-respect.

    (That, and your next performance review probably won’t be so positive…?)

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  28. Yvette (2,809 comments) says:

    It is surely self-regulating – once you have used a sick day allowance you must be into medical certificates and evaluations to remain employed.

    However should resulting unemployment cause you to be depressed, that is a reaction to your conditions and if you react negatively, to mentally grind yourself to a standstill, is that then self induced illness or not?
    or, as James Stephenson says –
    Now there’s a slippery slope, if ever I saw one. Hospitalising oneself by deliberately riding like a muppet on a motorbike without adequate safety gear…?
    Being a muppet five sick days in a row should still be the simple start point.

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  29. ross69 (3,652 comments) says:

    Where I used to work, there was unlimited sick leave.

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  30. Ryan Sproull (7,115 comments) says:

    Can’t see any reason why employees should not fund sick days themselves

    Give it a try anyway. See if you can imagine some reasons.

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  31. Dazzaman (1,140 comments) says:

    Hangovers never stopped me…..no money made lying on the couch.

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  32. PaulL (5,981 comments) says:

    I’ve had the accidentally hung over. A small night that turned big (caught out thinking I was drinking light beer, and started thinking it was a good idea around about when I worked out it was full strength). At my workplace the unwritten rule is that you come in, everyone laughs at you, and then if you’re still incapable of work you go home.

    I had a couple on my team who used to go out every Thurs night, late to work on Friday. Had a couple of pointed conversations about missed meetings, and impacts on performance ratings. They stopped.

    I don’t begrudge my employees having a life. So long as there’s some give and take. A lot of them were still at work at 9:30pm when I left tonight, a lot of them were at work last weekend. I can cut them some slack if they have a big night once in a while.

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