People & Human Resources

“It’s ridiculous”: Small business community hits back at claims private sector discourages staff from taking sick leave

Emma Koehn /

Council of Small Business Australia chief executive Peter Strong says claims that some firms in the private sector are stopping workers from taking sick leave are “ridiculous”, after figures on staff absenteeism showed corporate workers take less leave on average than their public service counterparts.

Australia’s Public Service Commissioner John Lloyd weighed in on figures from Direct Health Solutions’ 2017 Absence Management survey, which revealed the number of days employees were absent across Australia increased from 9.5 to 9.7 a year in 2017.

The results are based on an email survey of more than 2,000 managers last year, tracking the number of days workers were absent from work for issues like sick and carer’s leave.

There was a gap between the number of days workers in the public and private sectors were absent each year: private sector workers took 9.5 days of leave, while public servants took 11.4 on average.

Speaking to The Australian, Lloyd defended the higher average number of days in the public sector, while observing “there is a culture which is probably a bit too unforgiving on having absence because of illness” in the private sector, which could mean workers in corporate don’t take their leave even when they should probably be off work.

Speaking to SmartCompany this morning, Strong says the claim businesses try to put workers off taking leave, particularly for illness, was “ridiculous” and showed smaller operators were “getting attacked”.

“In my opinion, this issue is really not a problem, when there are so many other important issues out there.”

Across both sectors, Strong says the figure that staff are only absent for 9.7 days a year shows they are not even using their full entitlements.

While he does not believe small businesses are preventing workers from taking days off when they need them, he observes smaller operators do have a culture which discourages workers from taking time off if they don’t really need it.

In a small business in particular, you let down your work mates if you go on leave unneccessarily,” he says. 

In a statement provided to SmartCompany this morning, Lloyd said most staff within the Australian Public Service used their leave responsibly, but the commissioner was continuing to work with government agencies to ensure staff only took time off when they needed it.

“Some may take leave when it is not warranted.  The APSC is working with government agencies to reduce the incidence of this discretionary and inadvisable use of the leave,” he said.

When it comes to private sector workers being discouraged from taking leave, he clarified in the majority of cases, he believed staff and employers at these firms struck the right balance.

“But some, and it is a minority, have an approach which can make people reluctant to take leave when it is appropriate. A situation where people turn up for work, when they are sick and who should stay away, is an outcome that should be avoided,” he said.

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Emma Koehn

Emma Koehn is SmartCompany's senior journalist.

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  • Robert M

    Looks like Mr Lloyd doesn’t really know what he is talking about. On the one hand he is quoted as saying “But some, and it is a minority, have an approach which can make people reluctant to take leave when it is appropriate” yet the figures show a huge difference across the ENTIRE public service. 9.5 days (private) Vs 11.4 days (PS). This really means that people who work for the private sector are either healthier or less likely to be malingerers.

    • Jan Deane

      9.5 days pa in the private sector is still a huge amount though. As this is the average, there are obviously many people taking many more than 9.5 days – maybe this happens in unionised workplaces, i.e. no consequences for those taking lots of sickies and sickies are part of the culture. Just a guess.

  • Jan Deane

    Well, I am in the private sector and take an average of 2 sick days per year, if that, so there must be others who take a lot more.
    9.5 days is a huge average number of days and 11.4 is ridiculous – 1 sick day off per month. But I can’t say I am surprised.

    • jimmy55

      Jan, as an employer, I would not even blink at 2 days. Before I worked for myself I had never had a sick day as an employee. I hope your employers see your value.

      After 25 years of working for myself I finally had 2-3 days spread over 2 weeks when a very serious infection hit me, the first days in my working lifetime. It was 1 full day and 3 1/2 days over the 2 weeks.

      I would like a system to reward the people who play by the rules and do the right thing. Sad to say we are nation of a lot of takers and thats why we cannot get the government debt paid.

  • jimmy55

    The public service is screwing us. They have flexi time, better super than people in private SME;s and take more sick days. I think that is called screwing the taxpayer.

    That’s at federal, sate and local council level too.

    They are getting 3% annual pay rises, when wages have stagnated in private industry and thats because lots of sme’s are not making real profits a. Then thats a problem for the ATO and government to pay debt. I will be happy this financial year to have what I loaned the company back from 1-2 years ago ( to help it through and so every one could have job), plus my wage (which is not mega) and maybe a bit bit extra.

    So private industry is not an affordable place for much in wage increases, but government sector can suck 3% for each of the last 3 years out of us.

    They are not giving value to deserve it.

    As an employer I have had people who take every sickie &carer’s day every year. When I worked for other I never had a sick day. So if the average in private is 9.5 days , thats really alot of sickies too, maybe less than government employee’s

    A good portion of sick days are defacto holidays.

    Its the same with travel costs. Some people dont care when they travel and spend the bosses money. I have been very lucky on this one and not really had employee’s like that but plenty of my business colleagues have. Plus at gatherings you listen to people how they rort everything they can.

    1-2 years before Virgin brought in frequent flyers ( circa 2006) I was in an OS airport and a virgin employee told me at that time, that they only had 4% of government business. Obviously then if the government employee could not get his junket on the taxpayers money they would not use Virgin. A lot of them , not all are just sucking the system dry. I bet you not much has changed. Some departments have stripped FF points from government emplpyee’s but not all.

    Do many people think there is lot of bribery especially at local council level.

    The country on is in too much debt its not willing to pay back , so the crash it coming.