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.
Attendance also varied across different industries, Shamsuddin said, citing a United Kingdom report which found that nurses in the UK took up to 11 per cent of working time in sick leave -- much higher than the international average.
He said companies could boost worker attendance through medical incentives and schemes aimed at discouraging employees from taking unnecessary sick leave.
"In places where such schemes are used, employers have found that they can reduce absenteeism from four to 0.1 per cent."
He said while such schemes cost companies' money, the benefits were gained through improved productivity.
"Workers tend to be more responsible overall and costs are reduced as there is no need to delay work or replace absent employees.
"Workers would rather forgo their annual leave rather than waste working time by taking MCs."
Cuepacs president Datuk Omar Osman urged heads of government departments to probe cases of civil servants abusing their sick leave.
He reiterated Raja Nazrin's message that civil servants should be mindful of their action, and abusing medical leave could undermine the integrity of the public sector.
"To curb this, we propose the respective departments look into cases involving those who are frequently going on medical leave, especially those in their 30s or below," Omar said yesterday.
He urged doctors to play their part by not giving medical leave for people who only had a mild flu.
"It is sufficient that he is given an hour or two off from work."