No perfect solution to deal with frequent sick leave

I refer to the recent reports and comments on the medical leave system and rewarding those who take less sick leave ("Wield the stick when sick? Some firms give out carrots"; Feb 12).

Under the Employment Act, an employee, after three months of service, is entitled to medical leave with pay. It is rare for employers to flout this rule.

However, the issue gets complicated when an employer considers sick leave taken in human resource matters such as attendance incentive, performance bonus, merit increment and promotion.

It is extremely difficult to design a scheme which can make every employee happy while also serving the needs of the employer.

Take the following scenario, for example. Company A gives an incentive of $300 if an employee has taken, say, less than two days of sick leave in every quarter.

It is nearing the end of a quarter and an employee who earns $1,500 a month has taken one day of sick leave thus far.

What would he do if he feels a little unwell? He would most likely report for work or take one day of annual leave to rest.

The concern about frequent casual sick leave is recognised in the tripartite guidelines on sick leave pay, which recommends that if an employee takes casual sick leave, shift allowance will not be included in the sick leave pay.

In the case of cabin crew, where flight and overseas allowances make up a good portion of their pay, working on a long-haul flight and the return trip can mean some $2,000 in allowance. So, one may not want to miss operating such flights.

On the other hand, one would be less enthusiastic about working on an overnight flight without a layover as the allowance is smaller.

Regardless of how sick leave is managed - whether it is a merit or demerit point scheme - there will be some employees who are unhappy.

If a firm has to decide which of two employees who are almost equally good in performance and potential to promote, wouldn't it choose the one with the better sick leave record?

It is a judgment call and there is no perfect solution.

Loh Oun Hean

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 13, 2017, with the headline 'No perfect solution to deal with frequent sick leave'. Print Edition | Subscribe