KUALA LUMPUR - Businesses are losing up to a whopping RM9 billion (S$3.55 billion) yearly as a result of workers taking sick leave, according to the Malaysian Employers' Federation.
MEF executive director Shamsuddin Bardan said based on a recent survey, on average, each employee took about nine days per year of medical leave, or up to four per cent of working time.
Many workers, however, were abusing their sick leave privileges, feigning illnesses to obtain medical certificates (MCs).
"With 6.5 million workers, the number of working days lost to sick leave annually is just mind-boggling.
"The system is too lax. Understandably, doctors want to build a good relationship with their patients, but some doctors are sometimes too lenient when it comes to MCs," Shamsuddin said.
He was responding to Raja Muda of Perak Raja Dr Nazrin Shah, who said on Thursday, that the initial purpose of medical leave was being abused, with doctors now joining in by selling MCs to those who were not sick.
Shamsuddin said only a small number of doctors were engaged in such practices, but urged the medical community to do more to weed out those involved.
He said malingerers had started resorting to tactics such as "shopping for MCs", taking advantage of the range of panel doctors appointed by their company.
"They'll go to one clinic and if they can't get an MC there, they'll go to the next one."
With the cost of absenteeism at about RM100 per day and the additional costs of replacing absent workers, the total loss due to sick leave stands about RM9 billion, or one per cent of Malaysia's gross domestic product of RM850 billion.
Shamsuddin said, these cases tended to increase during the festive season, with malingerers often seeking to increase their leave right before or after a public holiday.
"Many even visit doctors while they are on holiday out of state. But with an MC, their bosses can't do anything even though obviously they were not too ill to travel."
In comparison, statistics by Singapore's Ministry of Manpower showed workers in the republic took an average of just 4.6 sick days in 2007, or half the number of days taken by Malaysian employees.