‘Widespread abuse of sick notes’: Covid absences on work floor are peaking

‘Widespread abuse of sick notes’: Covid absences on work floor are peaking
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The number of coronavirus-related work absences in Flemish companies is at the highest level since the start of the pandemic, and many of them submit a sick note instead of a quarantine certificate to their employer.

A survey by the Flemish network of companies, Voka, among 700 companies last Monday showed that the number of absences from the workplace due to isolation or quarantine averages 8%. While this figure may not seem high, it corresponds to about one in 12 employees per company.

“More people than ever during the coronavirus crisis cannot come to work because of infection or quarantine,” Hans Maertens, managing director of Voka, said in a press release.

In January of 2022, the average number of absences still stood at 6% – a lot higher than the usual 1.5% absences, Voka stated. “As predicted, the Omicron wave affects the whole of society and now also our companies. We assume that we have now reached the peak,” he added.

Abuse of sick note

Voka also noted “widespread abuse and improper use” of the sick note, whereby doctors issue a sick note to employees who are not ill but are in quarantine. Normally, those in quarantine must provide a quarantine certificate to their employer, which shows that the employee is entitled to temporary unemployment benefits.

In that case, however, the employee will not be entitled to their full wages.

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In 7 out of 10 companies with more than 250 employees, abuse of the sick note is observed when employees are in quarantine, according to Voka. Employers also report the same abuse when the employee’s child(ren) cannot attend school due to class or school closures. In smaller companies, the figures are slightly lower.

“The abuse of sick notes must stop urgently. The employers now suffer twice: they miss their staff members with all the problems that entails and they have to continue paying the wages of those staff members,” said Maertens.

The organisation is calling on everyone – doctors and employees alike – to apply the rules on quarantine certificates correctly. “Only those who are ill themselves are entitled to a sick note.”

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