Is there a cure for sick leave abuse in Oman?

By: Kabeer Yousuf

MUSCAT: Availing sick leave from private medical institutions while being actually not sick has been a mantra among employees of many organisations which is proving to be detrimental to the smooth functioning of a company, according to a cross-section of business houses in the country.

The top management complains that this trend of employees missing from work with no notification in advance has been affecting their commitments to customers as well as jeopardising growth plans.

“Availing sick leave has been a major threat to the smooth operations of an organisation where the employees buy off a day or two for a premium of RO 5 or 2,” says Mohammed al Shaqsi, Director, Human Resources at Crowne Plaza Muscat.

“You will not find the staff one fine morning and they disappear with no prior notice or information only to find them after two or three days with a sick leave certificate from some hospital,” Al Shaqsi, who has more than two decades of experience in human resources, said.

He further added that there is a modus-operandi too in this practice.

“They take two days prior to the weekend or after the weekend so that their total offs will be some four or five days in a week. Imagine how an organisation can function with staff disappearing just like this.”

“We constantly have this problem of staff missing from work mostly drivers and front office employees. This is affecting our commitment of timely delivery to clients, and more often than not, relations are getting strained,” managing director of a leading trading group which employs more than 50 in Ruwi, said on condition of anonymity.

Another manager of a financial company added that the mobile phone of these employees would be either switched off or out of coverage area only to realise next day that they were sick the previous day.

On the other hand, medical practitioners who are eligible to issue sick leave certificate by the Ministry of Health are getting ‘sick’ of such requests from patients who are employed elsewhere and wanted a day off or two.

“We get umpteen requests from patients for a day off or two despite the doctors’ advice that he can go and work,” says Devassy, administration manager of Badr Samaa Group of Hospitals.

“We follow the guidelines issued by the Ministry of Health before sanctioning sick leave and doctor’s clinical assessment and medical reasoning. However, there are patients who insist on having sick leave,” he added.

V M A Hakkim, Executive Director of KIMS Oman Hospital, said they receive a number of such requests from some of their patients, but the request will be subject to strict observation before a certificate can be issued.

“We have a strict system to follow before we can issue a certificate to justify his/her absence from work”.

“We have a system in operation called ‘Away From Work Certificate’ with which we duly assign the hours the patient spent at the clinic only to the eligible persons”, Dr Thashli Thankachen, consultant physician and diabetologist at Lifeline Hospital, said, adding that medical certificates will be issued only to those really deserve them.

The Ministry of Health has implemented plans to curb misuse of sick leave option by initiating some stern measures after it received a flurry of complaints from the companies.

“We have set up centre for investigating such false sick leaves to curb this menace and we will authenticate the same after conducting proper inquiry into this whenever we receive a complaint from the organisation concerned”, a source close to the MoH said.

Article 66 of the Oman Labour Law issued in accordance with the Royal Decree No 35/2003 stipulates that ‘Subject to the provisions of the Social Insurance Law, an employee whose sickness is proved shall have the right to a sick leave not exceeding in total ten weeks in one year whether such weeks are continuous or separate and the sick leave shall be granted on several grounds and a medical certificate shall be a proof of sickness”.

However, in case there is a dispute, the matter shall be referred to the Medical Committee, provided for in Article (43) of this Law.

But in many cases, fake medical certificates have been presented which is forged in an understanding with the consulting doctor and the patient.

“Majority of all sick leaves granted are false and are not due to genuine medical problems. But we are left with no choice but to accept their claim of being sick and grant them leave with pay” said an HR manager who works for a large hypermarket chain in the country.

Experts however pointed that, with the new regulations of the Ministry of Health to bring to fore the employees who misuse sick leave, this trend has been slightly dipping and stricter laws could abolish this practice completely.

SOURCE: OMAN DAILY OBSERVER

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