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Sick leave over holiday periods

The December holiday period is close and many employees would be taking annual leave during this time. Employers can expect a flurry of sick leave notes from employees because they were absent on the working days that fell amidst all the public holidays.

There are a number of questions about sick leave over the holiday period.

1.    How much sick leave is an employee actually entitled to?
If an employee works five days a week, he is allowed 30 days paid sick leave in three years. If he works six days a week, he is entitled to 36 days paid sick leave in 3 years.

2.    What proof is needed for sick leave to be paid?
Employers do not have to pay an employee for sick leave if he has been absent from work for more than two consecutive days or on more than two occasions during an eight week period and, at the employer’s request, does not give a sick note (Section 23(1) of the Basic Conditions of Employment Act 75 of 1997 (‘the BCEA’).

3.    Does the sick note have to tell the nature of the illness?
No. It is enough for the medical practitioner to say ‘medical condition’ on the sick note. The employee does not have to disclose the nature of the illness to an employer and cannot insist on such information being provided.

4.    Who can issue sick notes?
A sick note may only be issued by a medical practitioner who is certified to diagnose and treat patients, and registered with a professional council established through legislation.

Traditional healers are allowed to issue sick notes, provided he/she is registered with the Traditional Health Practitioners Council of South Africa (refer to our article Medical Certificates from Traditional Healers).

5.    What if the sick note says: ‘I have been informed that Patient X has been unfit for work on 17 January 2018’?

The medical practitioner has to make the diagnosis himself. If the sick note says this, it means the medical practitioner has not diagnosed the patient and has not given a medical opinion on whether the patient was fit for work or not. Basically the employee told him that, in his own opinion, he was too sick to come to work. An employer can reject such a sick note.

6.    Can you question the reliability of a sick note and reject a sick note?
Yes. If the circumstances around the sick note are suspicious, an employer can question the reliability of it. The employer can investigate the sick note by contacting the medical practitioner in question and ask the employee to go to a recommended doctor.

7.    Can you start an ‘abuse of sick leave process’ before the sick leave entitlements expired?
Yes. This process can be started at any time when abuse is suspected. It does not matter if the employee still has sick leave left. Sick leave is not an entitlement that has to be exhausted, it is a provision for situations of real illness. Sick leave abusers are usually easy to spot. They are usually absent after payday and on Fridays and/or Mondays.