Calling in Sick

It is a shame that the World Health Organisation (WHO) does not pay more attention to Malaysia. After all, as the international body dedicated to the promotion of public health, WHO should send a team to this country as soon as possible to investigate a rather peculiar outbreak that affects many office workers. There is no name for it yet, however the symptoms are headaches, stomach pain, and sometimes (although not always) diarrhoea. More tellingly, this illness always strikes on either a Monday or a Friday.

Perhaps, the various ministries should get involved as well. Naturally, the Ministry of Health has to be concerned, After all, this is a public health issue. But then there is also the ministry of Domestic Trade, Cooperatives and Consumerism. After all, many who are afflicted with this illness claim to have food poisoning. Is there something wrong with eateries in this country? Is there something wrong with the food? They need to investigate!

The Ministry of Tourism also has to be concerned. We pride ourselves in our food. We advertise the fact that Malaysia has many different cultures and therefore many different cuisines. So, if news were to get out that Malaysians are constantly getting food poisoning? Disaster!

All jests aside, absenteeism is one of the problems facing many companies in Malaysia. As any employer knows, when someone takes sick leave, it doesn’t end there. The person’s work has to be rescheduled or given to someone else to complete.  If the absent person has a medical chit (MC) and is eligible for medical leave, the company will have to pay for the salary for the day. It costs the company time and money.

A lot of money, in fact, it has been estimated that the cost of absenteeism in 2013 was RM8.22bn. That’s RM8.22bn gone just like that. For SME’s, the extra payroll costs can be quite difficult to stomach. It is not as though someone will make a generous donation to their bank accounts. They need to manage their budgets, and when employees start calling sick frequently, it becomes very difficult to do so.

This is not to say that all claims of being sick are not true or that a lot of workers in Malaysia are malingerers. However, when it is a frequent occurrence and there is a pattern, such as medical leave being applied for on certain days…. Any employer, any Human Resource Department, has the right to be suspicious.

It also does not help that there may be some unscrupulous doctors who will issue MC’s for money. Of course, such an act is against the rules of the Malaysian Medical Association (MMA) and any doctor who does that will face disciplinary action. Still it is a nice racket. RM30 for one MC. In one day, a doctor with 10 patients can make RM300. In one month, RM6, 000.

Not all doctors who issue MC’s to malingerers are crooks. Many are decent professionals who may be fooled by the ‘patient’. Incidentally, food poisoning is one of the easiest illnesses to fake because there are little to no corroborating signs. A person doesn’t need to have high temperature. Real food poisoning might cause the stomach make rumbling noises, but that is not always a given. Perhaps the only real sign of food poisoning is diarrhoea. And the doctor is not going to ask the patient to prove that.

Not all is lost though. There are ways for a company to cut down the number of MC’s taken by staff. For example they should appoint reputable clinics and doctors to their panel. That way, employees who want to take an MC have to go to them rather than more shady operations. Another way is to give bonuses for medical leave days not taken. Many companies have incentives for employees not taking annual leave, Perhaps, it is time that employees who do not take medical leave should be recognised for their commitment to health.

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