Sick of Sick Notes


Everybody gets sick. Think about the last time you were sick. Perhaps you had a nasty cold or the flu which included fever, body chills, sweating, aches, pains, coughing, and a number of emissions from various body parts. Perhaps you were so sick that you could not go to work and you needed to stay home to rest and recover.

Instead of staying at home in bed, however, you had to go to your doctor’s office. Unable to get a same-day appointment with your doctor, you then had to go to your local walk-in clinic or to the hospital and wait for service in an already busy health-care space. You had to do all of this not because you needed treatment, but because your employer needed a note from a doctor verifying that you were actually ill and not able to go to work.

It seems a ridiculous scenario.

Unfortunately, it is one that plays out every day in workplaces and health-care settings across the country. Rather than focusing on priority patients who need urgent medical care and assistance, the employer requirement for doctor’s notes from employees, who are legitimately ill, clogs up an already overloaded health care system for no apparent purpose.

Why does this happen? A recent article published by Maclean’s magazine explores this question and provides some not very comforting responses.

Click here to read the Maclean’s article.

A more practical and responsible approach to dealing with employee illness and absence can be found through the design and implementation of a comprehensive attendance management program (AMP). An AMP forms part of an overall compensation strategy. It provides for both indirect and direct pay options that acknowledge the need for employees to be absent from work and promotes attendance at work in a proactive manner.

The AMP provides context and content for a reasonable workplace approach to the management of employee attendance and absenteeism. For example, instead of focusing on the requirement for sick notes from employees for every absence due to illness from work, an AMP would provide a layered approach, defining when, how and for what purpose sick notes are required. Most AMP’s outline the requirement for verification of absences from employees in the case of ‘patterned absenteeism’, rather than the single incident focus as noted in our sick note scenario.

‘The 5 Key Elements of an Attendance Management Program (AMP)’ provides us with a legal insight into the components of this type of program along with a rationale for implementing it in the workplace.

Click here to read about the insights for an AMP.

With clear compliance requirements, a good AMP lets us let go of the need for unnecessary sick notes. It gives us time and a plan that moves towards a healthy, wellness-focused approach in supporting employee attendance at work.

Discussion Questions:

  1. As an HR practitioner, what will you include in an Attendance Management Program regarding timing and requests for sick notes from employees? Explain your rationale.
  2. What types of employee sick-time costings would you include in the design of and budgeting for an indirect pay plan?
  3. Instead forcing employees to use ‘sick days’ for non-illness related absences, what other types of paid or unpaid leaves from work would you put into place for employees through an Attendance Management Program?

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