Sick? The doctor will be right with you

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Calling in sick for a cheeky day off to enjoy a long weekend or recover from last night’s drinking session may soon be rather tricky in Belgium.

The country’s government has proposed a law that would require employees taking a sick day to stay at home for a medical check-up.

Belgium media reported that under the draft legislation people would be obliged to remain at their home for a four-hour timeslot between 7am and 8pm to wait for a visit from a doctor who will confirm their reported ailments. If the person is not at home when the doctor calls they could lose their pay for that day.

The rule change is part of an overhaul by the country’s government of labour laws, which are different for blue and white collar workers. Presently in Belgium people working in manual jobs do not get their first day of sick leave paid. Under new laws that would be abolished.

Belgium’s unions however have called the proposals unacceptable and that they amount to house arrest.

“We can’t agree with such a violation of personal privacy,” Jan Vercamst of the union ACLVB told The Guardian. “Blue-collar workers are accused of throwing more sickies on a Monday than white-collar workers. We want to end all discrimination, but this we cannot accept.”

Could it happen in New Zealand? Not likely, Clifton Chambers barrister, Karen Radich, told HRM Online.

“We already have a far better system that allows employers to check that sick leave is genuine,” she said.

Under the Holidays Act, employers here have the right to request an employee obtain a medical certificate for an absence that is within three calendar days if they wish.

“The employer doesn’t require a particular reason or any suspicion in order to require this of the employee, but they do need to pay the cost of the doctor’s visit,” Radich said. “For three or more days, the employee is required to pay for their own ‘proof of sickness’, but again, the employer can require them to provide this without needing a particular reason. “

Radich added there are also a number of practical reasons which could prohibit it being introduced here. 

“I doubt that many New Zealand employers would want to pay for the cost of a doctor’s house call, particularly where that cost is considered against the cost of only one day’s sick pay,” Radich said. “… it would be impossible for so many house calls to be made given the distances that the doctors might need to travel.  Belgium has over 11 million people in only 30528 sq km, whereas we have 4.4 million over 268,680 sq km.  In other words, we are 8 times the size of Belgium, with only a third of its population!”

There may also be an issue whether there would be enough doctors available to make house calls on unwell employees to prove their illness as a Medical Council survey in 2011 showed there were 14,333 active doctors in New Zealand.

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