Occ health: Absenteeism


Voluntary non-attendance of work, without valid reason. Absenteeism means either habitual evasion of work, or willful absence as in strike action. It does not include involuntary or occasional absence due to valid causes, or reasons beyond one’s control, such as accidents or sickness. If due to sickness it is called sick absenteeism, which is generally a valid cause.

(a) abscence-proneness; a defined personality trait (psychological or psychosomatic) leading to repeated absences
(b) poor working conditions
(c) lack of group cohesiveness – members if a well-structured group are upheld by its’ solidarity and sense of belonging (“esprit de corps”); this observed in smaller and more closely-knit groups such as shift and group teams
(d) lack of quality leadership
(e) low job satisfaction – deprivation of skills development, no recognition, non-use of abilities, no responsibility
(f) negative interactions with external forces, especially marketplace conditions

An employee who is absent due to sickness stays an employee until they are dismissed or until they resign. They can accumulate holiday days during their sick absent days. They must notify the employer as soon as practicable concerning their sickness. They need to hand in a sick note at least monthly during extended sickness. The employer has the right to require a sicknote by a particular time if they are off-sick. The BCEA requires that a sick note be handed in for the days they are off-sick. The employer is entitled to self- certification if the employee’s sickness is 2 days or less. A health care practitioner’s sick certificate is needed for more than 2 days sick leave. The employer is entitled to seek information about their sickness. Medical practitioners have the right to refuse divulging such information. Occupational health can get involved as occupational health represents both employee and employer


If an employee has a disability the employer should consider on whether there are any occupational adjustments that can be made to the work environment in order to accommodate the employee. This can be done by involving occupational health to examine the employee, determine the amount of impairment, disability and handicap that is involved and to assist the employer and employee in accomodation in the organisation.

An employee who is sick can be fairly dismissed on the grounds of non-performance due to incapacity if the employee refuses to interact with the employer and occupational health service after and during their sickness. The employee can also be fairly dismissed on the grounds of “non-performance on the grounds of ill-health” if the disease is deemed to incapacitate the employees and make them incapable of performing their duties

In municipalities in order to dismiss on the grounds of “non-performance due to incapacity” in cases of healthy-worker absences, the employee must be counselled 4 times. The first counselling can be a discussion, with 2 follow-up sessions and fourth report session. There-after the employee can be dismissed. These counselling sessions can take place at the employee’s home or by means of telephone call


An employee who is off-sick for prolonged periods of time can be fairly dismissed if they are unlikely to be well enough to return to work within a reasonable time.
What amounts to a reasonable time depends on the nature of the job, the specific difficulties encountered by the employer in covering the absence and the size and administrative resources of the employer. The employer does not have the obligation to keep a job open indefinitely, irrespective of whether there is excess capacity in the organisation to fill the post of the absent individual

If sick absence is due to an IOD (Injury-on-duty) or due to an OD (Occupational disease) the employer still has the right to fairly dismiss the indiviudal on the grounds of “non-performance due to incapacity”. Under COIDA (Compensation of Occupational Injuries and Diseases Act) the employee will not be able to claim for damages due to emotional strain. In cases where the sickness absence is caused by the employer’s circumstances at work, the employer will be expected to investigate this and seek to resolve this prior to considering dismissal. Generally IODs and other diseases are managed in the same fashion when it comes to disability and handicap

An employee who has frequent short-term sick absences, more than 1 to 2 days without certificate, more than 10 days per annum or more than 12 days over a 12 month period,(excluding admissions into a health care facility), can’t be automatically dismissed in the municipality. The employee must be sent to occupational health to be evaluated by means of a sick absenteeism evaluation by the OMP (Occupational Medicine Practitioner). The OMP will evaluate the number of sick days taken the past 2 to 3 years as well as any trends in sick leave pattern such as specific days of the week, months, shifts, public holidays, school holidays, pay days, or leave prior or after festive seasons. These sick days will be plotted in a 2 to 3 year calender for trending. The OMP will also take into consideration the different health care professionals consulted and the health care facilities utilised. The following is important. How far is the distance between the sick employee and occupational health? How faris the distance between the employee’s place of residence and the treating doctor? Are there absences for minor ailments? Is the employee super-fit at RTW (return-to-work)? Is the returning employee too sick to work, but inexplicably fit for overtime?

Care should be taken not to miss the employee who is genuinely ill.

The OMP should investigate whether or not the employee has impairment, disability, handicap or malingering. If there is disability then the employee should be temporarily accomodated or if seriously ill booked for a formal (FFW) Fitness-for-work examination in order to determine official accomodation on the organogram

The final outcome could be dismissal on the grounds of “incapacity on the grounds of non-performance” or medical boarding ‘”incapacity on the grounds of ill-health” depending the track record of the employee.

Dismissal on the grounds of “incapacity on the grounds of non-performance” due to work absences can only be done after 4 counselling sessions in the municipality. The first counselling session confirms either (1) improvement or (2) non-improvement. For the latter the employee gets referred to occupational health for a sick absenteeism evaluation. The third couselling session confirms either (1) improvement or (2) non-improvement. For the latter the employee must be informed that if there is no improvement at the fourth session the employee runs the risk if dismissal due ” incapacity on the grounds of non-performance (poor work attendance). No improvement at the fourth session necessitates a full report to the company manager.

As part of managing the sick employee the supervisor can notify the employee in writing to
1) Submit a certificate for every day of sick leave taken (the one to two day policy with a maximum of ten days per annum falls away)
2) Compulsory consultation by the organisation’s health care professional if the employee falls sick during working hours
3) Contact the organisation’s health care professional prior to utilising sick leave
4) Sick leave given by an outside health care professional can be over-ruled

Notice that employees have the right to refuse to divulge medical information or diagnoses

During prolonged sick absenteeism monthly or regular medical reports are required.