A new survey had thrown the spotlight on increased abuse of sick leave in all sectors of the economy, Michael Bagraim, a labour lawyer, said yesterday.
This involved both bogus and legitimate doctors, and was particularly rife in the textile industry, he noted.
Bagraim has in the past two months conducted a survey with Cape Town companies in various sectors after realising this problem was growing.
A questionnaire was sent to 100 companies, 30 of which responded.
Though the survey could not quantify the loss, a 2008 article in Leader.co.za estimated that sickness absenteeism directly cost the country R12 billion a year, citing the SA Chamber of Commerce.
The survey shows that the indirect costs of such absence may exceed the direct costs by as much as 200 percent.
Bagraim said the problem was most prevalent before and after weekends (on Mondays and Fridays) and on working days between public holidays.
Although this problem was not new, it had increased.
“Our small firm handles three to four cases a month and many years ago, it was probably once a year. At least one person is fired (for this offence) a month,” Bagraim noted.
He said that in some cases employees stole doctors’ medical pads to fraudulently produce sick notes, sometimes they pretended to be ill and a doctor genuinely verified a day’s sick leave believing that the person was not well.
“Sometimes the doctor is complicit with the exercise, he knows you are not ill, but he gives you a sick note and participates in an illegal activity,” said Bagraim.
Martin Jones, a general manager for Brooke International, a firm of private investigators in the Western Cape, has found more than three doctors who easily booked people off even though they were not ill.
Jones began investigating the practice after a request from clients in the clothing industry who noticed that their employees were booked off by the same doctors.
“You walk in and out of a doctor’s rooms within five minutes. You pay him R100 and he gives you a sick note.”
Marella O’Reilly, the acting chief executive and registrar at the Health Professions Council of SA (HPCSA), said that the organisation had seen an increase in the number of reported cases relating to practitioners issuing medical certificates in exchange for money or the practitioners issuing fraudulent certificates.
O’Reilly said: “This practice is a serious concern for the council as it is not only unethical and impacts on productivity within the country, but brings the highly esteemed medical profession into disrepute and, consequently the HPCSA is committed to ensuring practitioners guilty of these acts are held accountable.”
The medical staff regulator could not immediately quantify the number of cases.
Bagraim said some workers believed they were entitled to sick leave in each cycle even when they were not ill. – Slindile Khanyile