Antigua: Doctors accused of sick leave abuse

Antigua Observer:-A former labour commissioner has called on medical practitioners to stop enabling employees’ abuse of sick leave by dishonestly certifying illness.

Hesketh Williams declared that when necessary, doctors had an obligation to simply tell patients “[you] are not sick”.

He said, “There are a few names that come up very often on medical certificates, and one begins to wonder whether or not these medial practitioners are doing any examination.

“There have been times, in my experience, where an employee calls from home, they have not even seen the doctor and the doctor writes a medical certificate.”

The former labour commissioner added, “There have been instance where persons were overseas and they called the doctor, and the doctor wrote up medical certificate to excuse them from work.”

Williams was speaking on the topic of abuse of sick leave during Sunday’s Big Issues programme, where he was joined by President of the Antigua Barbuda Workers Union, Esrome Roberts and local businessman, Brian De Silva.

The trade unionist said employees must factor in the cost to the company when they choose to abuse their sick days and or sick leave. He said when someone calls in sick “the company has to call someone out” and therefore ends up “paying the persons [they] called out double and paying the person who is sick”.

“So you’re paying three times for the work of one.” That impacts us when we’re at the negotiating table when a company is able to show the level of sick leave that has been taken over a specific period,” Roberts said.

Williams noted, however, that if employees were taking sick days and using sick leave as a form of protest against their working conditions “it suggests that the communication between the bargaining agent and the worker is not what it ought to be”.

He said, “Not all companies are unionized… [But] if they are a unionized company… the union ought to have guided them away from using sick leave as a form of protest.”

De Silva said that it was not difficult for an employer to spot abuse. He advised, “If you have someone being sick repeatedly, on certain days, and it becomes a pattern, you begin to realise what’s going on.”

Williams added, “There are situations where employees….call in sick either on the day immediately before their day off or the day immediately after and the pattern continues. That has to be seen as abuse.”

Last week documents from Liat revealed that they  recorded significant revenue loss due to the rate of sickness among employees. The union representing pilots contested the figures arguing that working conditions need improving.

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