Updated 11 July 2013

Sick leave: the facts

Here's more about sick leave and the law. Is your employer treating you fairly?

If you're too sick to go to work, you're much better off working in South Africa than in the US.

In the US, paid sick leave is not a right. In fact, unpaid sick leave is not a right either, as employers with fewer than 50 employees can terminate the services of someone who doesn't show up for work, for whatever reasons.

This is in the spotlight at the moment, as people working in New York City for an employer with 20 or more employees has now gained the right from April onwards to take 5 days of paid sick leave per year. Before they either had to go to work sick, take a pay cut, or run the risk of being fired.

In South Africa, employers have to adhere to certain minimum regulations as set out in documents issued by the Labour Department.

Here are some things you might not have known:

  • A 'sick-leave cycle' is 36 months long. During that time an employee is entitled to an amount of paid sick leave equal to the number of days he/she would have worked in a six-week period. So if you work Monday to Friday, that comes down to 6 x 5 days, which would be 30. If you only work one day a week, you would be entitled to 6 days over the 36-month cycle, or two days a year.
  • If you are absent from work for more than the set number of days in a sick-leave cycle, your employer is entitled to deduct those days from your annual leave.
  • In the first six months that you work, however, you are entitled to one day's paid sick leave for every 26 days that you worked. In other words, you can't start a new job, take your 30 days, and then resign.
  • SA employers must pay employees for a day's sick leave if it falls within the set number of days. But an agreement between employer and employee may reduce that amount to 75% of normal pay.
  • If you are absent from work for more than two consecutive days, you need to produce a medical certificate from your GP, or other registered medical professional. If you are off sick more than once (even one day at a time) during an eight-week period without producing a medical certificate, the employer does not have to pay the employee for the sick day.
  • A sick-leave certificate has to state that the employee was unable to work for a specific period of time owing to sickness or injury.
  • If an employee lives on the employer's premises (maybe 50km outside of the nearest town), the employer may only deduct money from an employee for not having a medical certificate if a reasonable effort was made to help the employee get hold of the said certificate.
  • An employee is entitled to four months' consecutive maternity leave, starting four weeks before the expected birth.
  • Family responsibility leave (three days of paid leave) may be taken by employees who have worked for longer than four months and who works at least four days a week.
  • Family responsibility leave may also be taken in the event of the death of an employee's spouse, life partner, or immediate family (parent, adoptive parent, grandparent, child, adopted child, grandchild or sibling.)

(Source: Department of Labour SA)

(Picture: sick woman from Shutterstock)


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