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Minister says sick leave change not major

Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media
Kate Wilkinson
Kate Wilkinson

By Maggie Tait of NZPA

Wellington, July 19 NZPA - Employees should not be worried about getting a medical certificate if they are genuinely unwell, Labour Minister Kate Wilkinson says.

"It shouldn't worry any employee who is not trying to pull a sickie," she told NZPA.

Over the weekend the Government announced widespread changes to employment laws, including that employers can request proof of sickness or injury if an employee takes a day off sick. However, bosses will have to cover the employee's costs for getting a medical certificate.

At present employers have to have "reasonable grounds", for example seeing a sick worker out and about, before asking for a medical certificate if they take less than three consecutive days off sick.

General Practice New Zealand chairwoman Bev O'Keefe told NZPA there could be capacity problems at medical centres, that some patients might find it hard to get an appointment within the requisite three days and some unwell people may come to work when they should stay at home.

Green Party co-leader Russel Norman rang 40 GPs around the country and only 12 said they could squeeze in a patient with flu-like on the same day.

"With an already stretched health system the idea workers with a stomach bug or the flu should pull themselves out of bed to get a medical certificate is simply unworkable and draconian."

Prime Minister John Key said a situation wasn't going to arise where every single employee who was off sick would have to get a medical certificate.

"In the real world, if you are sick on one day and it's the first day you've been sick, I don't think your employer is going to say that is unreasonable," he said.

But if you take every Monday off, five Mondays in a row, they might start saying there's a problem."

Mr Key said this issue had been raised with him, and it affected the meat industry.

Mr Norman's fellow co-leader Metiria Turei said problems would arise if workers had to get paid back for their appointments.

"There's no evidence there is a huge problem for which a major change in the law is necessary, all it will do is create strife between employers and employees," she said.

"If the minister will argue that few employers will require a certificate why bother changing the law? The law is working as it is, there are systems in place already, there's no huge demand for it to be remedied and no huge problem to be fixed so just leave it alone."

United Future leader Peter Dunne said the policy did not seem workable because it was hard to get appointments and it wasn't practical to get a certificate for things like migraines and tummy bugs.

Ms Wilkinson said the change was not drastic.

"Employers aren't going to waste their money every time an employee is sick. That's just not realistic. But it means they can question someone that they suspect of perhaps routinely abusing sick leave -- someone who takes off the Mondays and the Fridays and it just gives them an option at their cost."

She said the idea was for employers to pay up front any doctor's bills so reimbursement would not be an issue nor did she think ill people should go to work.

"We certainly don't want people who are sick to feel they are forced to go to work but what this will do is maybe give a positive incentive for those who are trying to game the system."

She disagreed with Ms Turei that there was no problem that needed fixing, saying: "The issue has been raised with us". If a worker could not get an appointment the employer would need to decide whether to wait longer or forgo it.

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