No increase in work absences since Belgium dropped one-day sick notes

No increase in work absences since Belgium dropped one-day sick notes
Credit: Belga / Anthony Dehez

In spite of what certain employers feared, the abolition of the one-day sick note is not causing more absenteeism, an analysis by HR services company Acerta has shown.

When Belgium opted to get rid of sick notes for a one-day absence – effectively making it possible for employees to take a sick day without a doctor's note – employers were furious, arguing that it would open the door wide to so-called Monday morning sickness, in which people pretend to be sick to prolong the weekend.

However, the opposite has proven to be true. In the first quarter of 2023, short-term sick leave in Belgian companies fell by 5%.

"Employees are more likely to return to work immediately after their one day's absence. With a sick note, they would usually be at home for several days longer," Mien Vanhegen, a mental well-being expert at Acerta Consult, stated in a press release.

No need for suspicion

In the past three months, short-term absenteeism in the workplace (with workers being absent less than a month due to illness) was lower than the previous year. In the first quarter of this year, 3.4% of workable hours were lost due to short-term sick leave – a slight drop from 3.6% in 2022.

At the same time, there were fewer sick people in the workplace in the first quarter of 2023: 72.6% of working Belgians were not sick for a single day in recent months, up from 70.5% last year.

However, since the one-day sick note was abolished, slightly more people are absent from work for exactly one day. In the first three months of this year, 10.9% of employees were sick at home for just one day at least once, compared to 10.6% in 2022 and 9.3% in 2021.

The number of employees who effectively stayed home sick for one day once also increased from 2.4% in the first quarter of 2022 to 3.0% in the first quarter of 2023. "We understand that employers are suspicious of the abolition of the sick note, but our initial observations show that this needs to be nuanced," said Vanhegen.

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"It is and remains important for companies to build mutual trust with their employees and assume that employees will not abuse the system," she said. "A strong attendance policy that focuses on making sick leave negotiable, sensitisation and activation is indispensable in that context."

Acerta also called on companies to record absences with and without a sick note even better so the impact of the new measure becomes clear quickly, even in the longer term.

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