Swedes Abusing Sick Leave

September 17, 2004 (PLANSPONSOR.com) - Swedish workers are abusing their sick leave system en masse, and the government is fed up.

A survey released Friday by the National Social Insurance Board (NSIB) of Sweden showed that 40% of the population thinks it’s acceptable to skip work because they are feeling tired or are having trouble getting along with co-workers. Sixty-five percent felt they could take sick leave if they were feeling stressed at work. Seventy-one percent thought family problems entitled them to sometimes or always miss work.

The government is in charge of the extensive welfare system that, among other things, covers sick leave, and the price of increasingly absent employees is taking its toll. Sick leave compensation tripled from $2 billion in 1997 to $6 billion in 2002. In response to the increasing levels of paid sick leave, the government plans to launch a large national campaign to inform people that only illness is a valid reason to miss work, according to the Associated Press.

The survey indicates “a deep lack of knowledge about what the health insurance is meant to cover,” NSIB director Anna Hedborg asserted, according to the AP.

Others looked at the situation in a more cynical light. “The insurance laws clearly state that inability to work because of illness” is the only valid reason to take sick leave, states Alf Eckerhall, a social insurance expert with the Confederation of Swedish Enterprise, according to the AP. “The key word is ‘inability to work’ – not ‘illness.'” He claims that Swedes are intentionally abusing a system. He cites the habit of leaving work early to call in sick, thus circumventing the fact that compensation for sick leave does not start until the second day of leave.

In , the employer pays for the first three weeks’ sick leave and workers can call in sick for seven days before needing a doctor’s certificate or medical proof. People who call in sick do not receive any compensation for the first day they are absent. But Eckerhall said many are abusing the current system by leaving work and calling in sick shortly before their work day is over. That then counts as one sick day, which lets them start receiving sick pay the next day.

“That means your day without compensation was 15 minutes long,” Eckerhall said, according to the report.

The poll was taken of 1,002 people from June 17-24.