Monday, November 2, 2009

On medical leave and the employee

Medical leave is an employee benefit that is given in the form of paid leave which employees can use during periods of sickness. In most countries, there are statutory laws which provide for and protect the employee’s right to medical leave, especially for the rank-and-file employees who seldom possess the bargaining power to negotiate the terms of their employment.

The approach typically taken in Western countries, with regard to an employee taking medical leave, displays compassion and understanding. If an employee falls ill and requires rest for a couple of days, most companies will allow the employee to call in sick. There is no need for the employee to produce a medical certificate issued by a doctor in order to take short term medical leave. Only in cases of longer medical leave, e.g. four or more days, will medical certification be required. This approach is based on mutual trust and respect accorded between the employer and the employee. The underlying principle which companies adopt, is that the employee is regarded as a mature adult and is trusted not to abuse the benefit given to him or her. Equally, the employee appreciates the trust given, and does not abuse it.

The attitude adopted by the majority of companies in Singapore is markedly different. The employee is required to go to a doctor to obtain a medical certificate as proof of his or her sickness, even for just 1 day of rest. Otherwise, medical leave will not be granted, and the employee’s absence will be considered as unauthorised, with the consequences that the absence will be deducted from his or her annual leave or salary, and possibly, disciplinary action taken.

Why do employers in Singapore treat their employees in this way? Well, Singapore employers claim they are afraid that medical leave benefits will be abused, resulting in a loss of productivity at work.

But if we think about it, the prevailing system in Singapore doesn’t really do much to prevent the abuse of medical leave benefits. Most companies will concede that employees who are determined to use up all their medical leave, will do so anyway whether or not their employers require them to see a doctor and obtain medical certification.

Does abuse exist in the Western system? Yes, of course there are some individuals who will tend to abuse the trust given to them. However, these are isolated cases, and by and large, the majority of employees do not abuse the system.

Now, the cost of providing health care to employees in Singapore is expensive – according to one estimate, it costs between S$800 and S$1,400 annually per worker. The larger companies in Singapore usually procure group health insurance for their employees to cover their medical expenses. However, many small and medium businesses find such group health insurance plans expensive, and they typically choose to reimburse their employees’ medical expenses on a per occurrence basis instead. What Singapore employers may have failed to realise, is that there is actually a cost-saving benefit if an employer allows its employees to call in sick without obtaining medical certification, i.e., medical expenses will not be incurred. Of course, this is in no way advocating that companies should do away with medical certification requirements just to save costs. The principle is about treating the employee as an adult.

To minimise the abuse of medical leave benefits, it is submitted that companies may consider giving small monetary rewards to employees who achieve full attendance (i.e. no medical leave taken) during the work year. Such a gesture will recognise the employees' efforts, and also serve as an incentive for them to keep healthy.

Hopefully, we will someday see a mindset change among Singapore employers in this aspect.


  1. giving monetary rewards to employees who achieve full attendance may force some employees who are really sick (who should really remain home) to turn up for work. He/she might end up spreading the virus in the workplace.

    i am all for employers to be more flexible and allow its employees to work from home instead.

  2. @anonymous: That's where the supervisor comes in. If a supervisor is doing his job properly he'll see that the employee is sick and if necessary send them home to rest. From what I've experienced working in the US, there are employees that tend to turn up sick, perhaps out of some overblown sense of duty, or perhaps to earn incentives, but they aren't allowed to stay, because it puts the rest of the office at risk. Not to mention they're prone to make mistakes and hinder productivity rather than help it.

    Using that same logic, I'm sure it's common for sick employees to turn up for work in Singapore because they don't want to be shouldered with the cost of obtaining an MC just to prove that they're not lying and actually have a cold. Also, not all colds require the prescription medication that clinics are wont to hand out. Rather, a person could just as easily save money by picking up some over-the-counter fix. But, they can't do that because they have to get that certification or be risk disciplinary actions from their employers.

    Honestly, I've questioned this practice myself. It seems like a lack of trust on the part of employers, and feels more like an institution than a business. The US Army uses this exact kind of system and I always hated it. Not only because it's unnecessary, but because it was so time consuming and half the day would be spent obtaining medical certification rather than resting off the illness.

    Either way, there are people that will abuse the system. That's inevitable. It all comes down to a person's work ethic.

  3. Its the culture of Singapore, we do not trust one another in general.

    It is the same reason why US allows return for goods purchased for cash refund, no questions asked, and we do not.

  4. Some companies already implement an incentive for not taking any sick leave during the year (no MC) or a limited number of sick days a year (low MC). IRAS has also allowed such incentives to be tax free, capped at $200 and $100 respectively.

  5. I like abusing sick leave why not its free 14 days on top of annual public holiday 11 days:D

  6. Singapore and singaporeans are pure shit. This is another proof of this unfair people who always lie without any problem. Shitpure city

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