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More Than Half Of Kiwi Workers Used Work-from-home Privilege When Unwell Instead Of Using Their Sick Leave

The risk of COVID-19 transmissions has meant staying away from work if you feel poorly has never been more important.

In a survey[i] by Frog Recruitment this month, 28% of workers surveyed said since the pandemic’s first lockdown, they have taken more sick leave due to having COVID-19 symptoms.

But while staying away from work when feeling under the weather is the right thing to do for both ourselves and our co-workers, 56% of respondents said they used their work-from-home privileges instead of their sick leave entitlements to do so.

Shannon Barlow, Frog Recruitment Managing Director, says on the eve of the New Zealand government doubling legal sick leave entitlements to ten days, using work-from-home instead of sick leave is coming at a high price for employers.

“Ultimately there’s a huge cost to the employer when the wrong leave pass is redeemed. Sick leave accrues for employees who are in fact sick, but choose to work-from-home away from their colleagues. Employers are still having to paying for sick leave entitlements and from this Saturday 24 July, they will need to dig even deeper to cover the new legal entitlement from five - to ten sick days every year.

“Our clients are telling us they are seeing an increase in sick leave since 2020 due to mental health problems. As employers we have a duty of care to work to support our employees through mental health-related absence, and the new ten-day entitlement is a step in the right direction to support people bearing stress in pandemic times,” said Barlow.

But she says the pandemic has forced many employers to adapt their flexible work policies and while the new model is largely beneficial for both employers and employees increasingly working from home, the survey reveals a grey area for employers managing their workforce’s sick leave.

“Our best advice is to be fair to your employer and transparent with your manager - if you’re using work-from-home privilege to hibernate at home because your throat is scratchy, then inform them. Reasonable managers will agree that if the throat tickle develops into a more sinister cold, then is the time to activate your sick leave. That’s what it’s there for,” says Barlow.

Barlow says a manager who genuinely cares for an employee’s wellbeing will be more concerned about them staying away from work to take the time to recover and reduce the possibility of transmission in the team.

“Managers who understand that time away from the office is vital to not only our physical health but also our mental health, are protecting the health and wellbeing of their workforce. Unplugging from work in a physical and technology sense will also mean people experience less stress typically caused by being constantly ‘on call’ for the next job that pops up on our screens.”

She says employers should support workers to access COVID-19 vaccinations and provide time off work or travel time to receive both vaccinations in work hours, without using annual leave or losing pay.

“We will poll again in a year’s time when the majority of New Zealand’s workforce has been double vaccinated against COVID-19 and feel more protected against the virus. It will be insightful to see if access to sick leave returns to pre-2020 levels, or with our rising mental health issues, will people take the full ten days being offered to them from next week?”


[i] The Frog Recruitment Sick Leave online poll took place between June 23 – 25, 2021 with 287 respondents.

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