OK, first things first, let’s talk about best practice in alerting your employer that you cannot come to work because you or one of your dependents are sick. The rules are:
“You need to tell your employer as soon as possible that you are sick or injured and you want to take sick leave.”[i]
“As soon as possible” is actually kind of vague, but your employer may specify a timeframe in your employment contract, so make sure you know if there is. If you don’t know, or there isn’t a timeframe outlined in your contract – stick with this: if you wake up and feel unwell, call and leave a voicemail message or send a text as soon as you can. Ideally, do this before you are due to start work rather than after a shift has started. A call is best, but if you are not up to that, or your boss doesn’t have voicemail – send a text.
Unlike Australia, casual staff working in New Zealand are entitled to paid sick leave if they meet the legal requirements. These are:
- You have been working for 6 months continuously with the same employer OR
- You have been working for at least 10 hours per week for 6 months (for the same employer)
If you meet these criteria, you are entitled to 5 sick leave days per year.
Do I have to provide a Medical Certificate?
If you are sick for three or more consecutive days, your employer can legally ask you to provide a medical certificate to verify your absence from work. In some circumstances, an employer can request a medical certificate when you have been sick less than 3 days (so within the 3 consecutive days) but if they do this, they must pay for your doctor’s fees.
What if I have run out of sick days?
5 days don’t go very far if you have sick kids, your spouse gets sick and you come down with the gastro that the smallest offspring brought home from daycare. So, it’s not unusual for people to run out of 5 days paid sick leave in a bad year. If this happens to you, and you are working as a temp, you can ask your employer if you can take paid sick leave in advance, but this may be refused if you are working for a fixed period of time and won't become entitled to more paid sick leave (for example if you are not expected to work 12 months or more in total). However, you are entitled to request unpaid leave and your employer is far more likely to agree to this.
Can I get fired for being sick?
New Zealand employment law allows for an employer to terminate your employment due to medical incapacity – this is where you are unable to perform your duties due to sickness or injury[ii]. If you are working as a casual employee, and you are sick for an extended period of time or your absence means that critical work is not completed, the assignment may be required to end early to ensure that deadlines/requirements are met. However, we would endeavour to find you more work as soon as you were well enough to work again – good staff are hard to find!