Sick note debate: Does a one-day policy cut absenteeism?

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When Ontario Medical Association (OMA) president Scott Wooder told HR pros to stop asking for medical notes because it was wasting time and spreading germs, HRM readers had strong reactions.

Some applauded the suggestion, while many said some form of compromise such as a requirement after three days of sick leave was a good balance.

Now the TTC has had to defend its policy requiring workers get a doctor’s note after just one day of sickness.

TTC spokesman Brad Ross said before the rule was implemented workers could use five days leave before needing a medical note and the absence rate had hit 8.42% for unionized workers. In 2012, the first year the rule was enforced, that dropped to 7.7%.

According to StatsCan the national absenteeism rate in 2011 was 8.1%. However, comparing public and private sectors shows the wide differences, with the private sector workforce averaging 5.2%, the federal civil service reached 10.5% and provincial public organizations averaging 8%.

Union leaders said the policy makes it likely that workers are showing up sick and potentially spreading germs to colleagues and transit users.
“There is definitely a percentage of members that when they are feeling an ailment for a day will suck it up and come into work,” said Bob Kinnear, president of the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 113. “That is probably not good for the employees internally and probably not in the best interest of the public.”

The one-day rule is one of the strictest in the province, according to Ontario Federation of Labour president Sid Ryan.

Kinnear also suggested there could be safety issues if sick medicated operators are behind the wheel.

“It is important that they (the TTC) recognize the safety aspect and recognize that it is important that we ensure that we have completely alert operators out there,” he said. “You (should) want to make clear to the operators, to the people that are in safety-sensitive positions that if you are under the weather, if you are taking antihistamines, we don’t want you driving.”

“But the TTC … does not encourage that, in fact they very assertively encourage people to come in.”

Ross said it was incumbent on sick employees to stay home, despite the doctor’s note requirements.

“If you are sick, if you are unable to work, if you are fatigued in any way, if you are not fit for duty, you need to stay home,” Ross said.

As part of the collective agreement, the note rule can’t be changed until the contract expires at the end of March.
 
  • Mary on 2014-01-14 9:56:36 AM

    Why the stringent rule about staying home if they are sick? Can't they accommodate sick employees within the workplace? Alternately, making them come in if sick is not a logical rule, either - each must be reviewed on a case-by-case basis.

  • Nancy Fisher on 2014-01-14 10:03:07 AM

    It should be noted that many employers only require doctor's notes for very short absences where there is a history of excessive absenteeism unsupported by medical evidence. And those doctor's notes are often unhelpful (doctors should be cautioned that they can be compelled to testify if litigation by the patient against the employer ensues and so should pay better attention to what they're writing). Absenteeism is a societal problem and hence the OMA should work with employers to deal with it. While Scott Wooder does admit that he has no HR expertise, I'd be curious to find out what he thinks that employers and the OMA should do rather than just scolding employers for what we're doing.

  • Carol on 2014-01-14 10:13:07 AM

    I suspect the stats you quote for Federal, Provincial, and private absenteeism rates are comparing apples to oranges. Federal and Provincial benefits generally have sick days built in to their benefit packages and in my experience simply become an entitlement (extra vacation days). Private sector companies generally do not have provisions for sick days; if you are not going to be paid to stay at home, you generally show up to work. This could be the reason why the absenteeism rates are higher in these areas.

  • kb on 2014-01-14 10:14:22 AM

    No one is suggesting in any of the comments I've read, that sick employees should come to work. That would not be in anyone's interest. What is needed is a recognition of the importance of balance. This means we don't go crazy and ask employees with good attendance records to bring a note if they miss a day. (Though we will want a note if they are absent for a lengthier period to ensure they are getting the care they need, and to eventually confirm they are well enough to return.) And we do expect some reasonable medical substantiation of illness in the case of those whose record of absence suggests the possibility of abuse. Asking staff not suspected of abuse but who have a high degree of absenteeism is also reasonable to ensure they are getting the care they need. There is no need to be discriminatory about this. The rule could be that if you miss more than x days in a period of time, or if you exhibit a pattern of Monday and Friday illness, you may be asked to provide a note for any further absence until such a time as the record is lowered to within the average for the workplace.

  • Art on 2014-01-23 9:30:41 AM

    I want to compare apples to apples; What formula is being used here fore absenteeism rate?

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