Public Service Sick Leave

July 27th, 2015 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

Inland Revenue Department staff are being hauled before their manager if they have even one day off ill, as the tax agency grapples with its high level of sick leave.

The meetings, dubbed “welcome back conversations”, are part of a new initiative – Supporting Positive Attendance – introduced after the IRD noticed skyrocketing rates of staff taking sickies.

After starting the project two years ago, it had gone from second worst to third worst department in the public sector. The tactics have raised the eyebrows not only of staff, but also of an employment expert who says the department is dancing close to the edge when it comes to obligations under the Holidays Act and possibly the Privacy Act.

But the IRD is standing by its policy and says the initiative has saved taxpayers $6 million in two years.

A spokesman said that since the project was rolled out over 2013/14, average sick leave taken each year had reduced by nearly two days a person.


What I find interesting is the huge differences in average sick leave per employee by agency. You have:

  • MSD 10.5
  • TPK 9.7
  • IRD 9.1
  • Customs 8.3
  • Stats 7.9
  • SFO 4.7
  • MFAt 4.3
  • Treasury 3.8
  • DPMC 2.9
  • Defence 2.6

Now you can understand MSD and IRD being higher because many of their staff will be call centres.

But why would staffers at Stats NZ have twice as much sick leave as those at Treasury?


April 3rd, 2013 at 3:00 pm by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

A Gisborne man was justifiably fired after his boss saw Facebook pictures of him at a waka ama championship when he was meant to be at home sick, a court has found.

Bruce Taiapa has lost an appeal to try and overturn an Employment Relations Authority ruling that his employer, the training institute Turanga Ararau, was within its rights to sack him in July 2011 because he misused his sick leave.

Employment Court chief judge Colgan backed up the authority’s ruling in a decision released yesterday.

In March 2011, Taiapa, 59, asked to take a week’s leave without pay so he could attend the waka ama championships in Rotorua. He was granted only three days off because no-one was available to cover his work.

The next Monday, he called in sick, saying he had a damaged calf muscle.

Two days later, his boss saw on Facebook a picture of him at the championships. Taiapa was smiling and giving the thumbs-up.

That is beyond stupid – both the calling a sick when you are not, but competing in waka champs and being photographed there.

Once he returned to Gisborne, Taiapa got a doctor’s certificate stating that he had been unfit to work for the past week. He returned to work three days later.

This is one of the reasons I am skeptical of the numbers on the sickness benefit. It is all too easy to get a certificate.

After a series of discussions, manager Sharon Maynard dismissed Taiapa for misusing his sick leave and misleading his employer. Maynard said she had lost trust and confidence in Taiapa.

Taiapa’s lawyers argued Turanga Ararau should not be able to dictate where Taiapa recuperated from his illness.

I don’t think taking part in a waka championship is recuperation!

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 sick leave 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 sick leave 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 employment law. 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.

Parliament’s sickie system

August 5th, 2010 at 9:00 am by David Farrar

Audrey Young reports:

Chris Carter’s voluntary two-month leave from Parliament has highlighted loopholes in the rules on MPs’ absences that could allow an MP to stay off work until the next election on almost full pay.

Speaker Lockwood Smith said yesterday he wants to address the unsatisfactory rules.

An electorate MP could stay away for the rest of the parliamentary term with very little penalty – a maximum of $30 a week in a sitting week – under the Civil List Act 1979.

Dr Smith said yesterday that was inadequate and he wanted it addressed.

“I have a real concern for the integrity of Parliament and it worries me that a member could, in a worst case scenario, decide they are not coming back at all this term,”

Yeah, the penalty for absence without leave should be something alone the lines of 50% of their pay – not less than 1% of their pay.

Mr Carter, who was adamant during his attacks last week on Labour leader Phil Goff, that he wasn’t unwell, is said by friends to be sick and in need of rest. …

Dr Smith said he had received a letter from Mr Carter’s lawyer – friend Claudia Elliot – saying he would be away from Parliament for two months because he was “unwell and unfit to attend work”.

I guess a lawyer’s letter trumps a doctor’s certificate as they earn more money. Who needs to spend six years studying internal medicine etc, when a lawyer can determine not just that you are sick – but even calculate in advance how much leave you will need.

Whanau leave

June 6th, 2010 at 11:56 am by David Farrar

The SST reports:

CHUCKING SICKIES could be a thing of the past if the Service and Food Workers’ Union’s call for “whanau leave” to give people time off work to care for dependants is adopted.

But we already have whanau leave. S65(1) of the Holidays Act states sick leave can be used for you, your partner or dependents.

Massey University Albany psychology lecturer Dianne Gardiner said the idea should be adopted because the law does not reflect the realities of life, including looking after sick children and parents.

I think the lecturer should read the Holidays Act.

While countries such as Japan and Australia provide 10 days for personal sickness, bereavement or to care for dependants, New Zealand legislates for just five, which have to include any time off to care for family.

Now this is a different issue. This is about the quantity of leave available, which is different from whether one can use sick leave for family members – which is currently allowed.

The union’s northern regional secretary Jill Ovens said her 23,000 members were this week expected to ratify a clause calling for five whanau leave and 10 sick days, on which the union would campaign.

She said the statutory minimum is inadequate because people could easily use five days on dependants and have nothing for themselves. “Even with 10 days a year, it’s quite difficult to manage if you’ve got children or elderly dependants. A lot of people who are still working have elderly parents.”

I have some agreement with the union, in that the legislative minimum of five days is rather low. In fact I don’t think I know of an employer who doesn’t provide for at least ten. I would be open to persuasion that the minimum should be 10.

Going beyond 10 (which is around one day in 20) would be going too far in the other direction I think. Some employees do see sick leave as a target, not a safety net, and maximise their sick leave. Many employers do react with compassion to someone who is genuinely sick for longer than 10 days a year, and don’t force them to start taking annual or unpaid leave, even though they could.

Businesses need staff working, in order to make money. Aready of the 250 “work days” a year, staff get 11 days of public holidays, 20 days of annual leave and normally ten days of sick leave.  That averages out to a worker not being at work one day in six (on top of weekends).