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 a former senior SmartCompany journalist.

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