Monday, July 19, 2010

The wrong approach on sick leave

Over the weekend, the government declared war on every employee in New Zealand, with its announcement that it planned to extend the 90 day trial period to cover all employers. But that wasn't the only "reform" they announced - they also plan to make it more difficult for employees to take their sick leave by allowing employers to demand proof (at their own expense, fortunately) that an employer was really sick after one day.

You can see how this panders to the prejudices of National's business supporters. In their view, employees are lazy, shiftless shirkers, who abuse their sick leave when they just want a day off. Forcing them to prove they were really sick will end this practice. Productivity will rise, and with it growth (and profits).

Except that it won't. All it will do is force employees to come in to work when they're sick but walking, because they don't want the hassle of dealing with a shitty boss. This already costs New Zealand $2 billion a year due to lower productivity, and Key's policy looks set to increase that number. In other words, Key's policy will have exactly the opposite effect than intended. That's what happens when you base your policy on ideology rather than empirical evidence.

In fact, the empirical evidence suggests that that the real problem with sick leave isn't that people use it too often - but that we don't use it often enough:

The research found the average time off work due to illness was 4.2 days per year, while the average number of days where employees went to work when they were too sick to be fully functioning and productive was 11.1 days.
And that means the solution isn't cracking down on sick leave and encouraging presenteeism, but instead increasing the entitlement and encouraging employees to use it, so they can actually get better rather than dragging themselves into work to function at low efficiency while infecting everybody else. Most of the rest of the developed world (including Australia, Japan, Germany, the Netherlands and Singapore) get ten days annual sick leave. We get only five. We're behind even the anti-worker Americans on this (they get seven days). National is taking exactly the wrong approach here. But then, that's par for the course for them, isn't it?