Chucking a Sickie: Australia and UK Compared

On Friday my daughter didn’t go to school, she complained of a poorly tummy and the constant need to rush to the toilet almost without warning. So she stayed at home. She was, of course, genuinely ill. If she hadn’t been, if she’d just been angling for day off, this would be known in these parts as “chucking a sickie”.

In the UK it is similarly named, but I believe is more common to say “throwing a sickie”.

Chucking a sickie versus throwing a sickie.

Chucking a sickieSo, what’s the difference?

There is one very specific difference between our two countries in this respect, but I’ll get to that in a minute. First, a little background.

The vast majority of absences from work are genuine. Nobody can know for sure exactly how many sickies, whether they be chucking or throwing, are just excuses for a day off. Employers claim that it could be as much as 25%.

Most popular reasons for not showing up for work are flu, colds, sore throats, food poisoning, back pain, migraine, stomach upset and ear infection. These are all, obviously, genuine illnesses and are therefore great excuses for chucking a sickie.

Here are some stupid reasons for chucking a sickie:

  • My fingers are stuck in a bowling ball.
  • A cow broke into my house and I’m waiting for the insurance man.
  • A chicken attacked my mother.

In the UK, the first Monday in February is known as National Sickie Day when somewhere in the region of 350,000 people throw a sickie. It’s something to do with the excitement of Christmas, followed by the rush of the January sales, and then February turns up.

Dull dull February. Cold cold February. February the nothing exciting is going on. And, apparently, that first Monday in February is all too much for many people, so they throw a sickie.

In the UK it is calculated that 190 million working days are lost to the sickie, that’s an average of 6.5 sick days off per employee.

When we had Australia Day earlier this year, it was estimated that an additional 173,000 “sickies” would be chucked on the Friday by employees to make it a four day long weekend.

In 2009 it was claimed by a company called Direct Health Services that the average Australian worker takes 8.62 days off a year due to ill health. By the end of 2010, further Australian research suggested that figure had risen to 9.3 days.

When an Australian team won the America’s Cup in 1983 the then Australian Prime Minister Bob Hawke said “I tell you what, any boss who sacks anyone for not turning up today is a bum.” That led The Times in the UK to claim Australia was, “the spiritual home of the sickie”.

Maybe they were right, we do have a special name for it in Australia, it’s called “the doona day”. A doona here is a duvet or quilt, so a doona day is a day spent in bed.

Sickies: Australia versus the UK

I read on the Today Tonight website that Australians take about 50% more sick days per year than those in the UK. “In Australia, absenteeism levels are significantly higher than they should be. For example, they’re about 50 per cent higher than the UK.

The above figures certainly confirm that, with 6.5 days compared with 9.3 days pretty close to a 50% increase.

On a per capita basis, our feared 173,000 sickies is also pretty much spot on to a 50% increase on the U.K.’s 350,000.

Here are some more stupid reasons for chucking a sickie:

  • I fell asleep at my desk while working, hit my head and sustained a neck injury.
  • I got hit with a golf ball.
  • My bus broke down and was held up by robbers.

The big difference between Australia and the UK?

I mentioned earlier that there is one big difference between Australia and the UK when it comes to sick leave, and that is that here in Australia sick leave is an “entitlement”.

You can check this out for yourself on the Fair Work website which is run by the Australian Government. It says…

Sick leave is leave that employees can take when they can’t attend work because they are sick or injured.

Sick leave is a type of personal leave under the National Employment Standards (NES).

Under the NES full time employees are entitled to 10 days’ paid personal leave (for sick and paid carer’s leave) per year. Part-time employees receive a pro-rata entitlement to sick leave based on the number of hours they work. Paid personal leave accumulates from year to year.

…………………..

So, it’s kind of build in to Australian workers contracts, as a result, 11 per cent consider sick days to be part of their salary and take their full allowance each year.

And look how close they are to taking the full allowance, they’ve only got .7 of a day left!

As Lucy Rollins of the above-mentioned Direct Health Solutions said “There is an entitlement culture in Australia, much more so than in any other country, because most countries don’t offer a fixed number of sick days.

I’ll leave the last word to the first commenter on an article about this very subject by The Punch. Calling himself “up the sicky”, he said…

Your article might have some validity if the purpose of life was to surrender yourself like a slave to the betterment of an employer that would steal your kidneys if they had half a chance. Thankfully as an Australian I retain enough self respect to demand fairness and take sickies as needed.”

Get well soon to you all!

Have you chucked a sickie lately? Let us know in the comments below, but do use a false name, eh! You never know what your boss is up to…

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{ 15 comments… add one }
  • Virginia G October 13, 2015, 5:56 pm | Link

    This is an old article, but I can’t resist a funny link. In America, we just call it “Calling in Sick”, no cool name. There’s certainly no national policy about sick days, and I think a lot of larger companies have policies that go like, “We’ll pay you for your sick days, but we reserve the right to request a doctor’s note any time we think you’re abusing the system.” Some companies, however, do have maxima like you’ve noted in Australia, and I would bet they end up with substantially more employees “calling in sick” than those companies without a set number. Some companies try to get around it by offerring perfect attendance awards of some type. Unfortunately, that just encourages people to come to work when they are contagious.

    In Korea, we see two different systems. Many companies (mine included, mostly), don’t give sick days at all. If you call in, you use your personal vacation days until you run out. Then you can use “sick leave”, but it’s more like short-term disability leave in the U.S. However, if you go home sick, you usually don’t get charged. Again, encourages people to come in and infect the office. However, one thing my company has that I’ve NEVER seen in America is a “period day” for female employees. It’s just what it sounds like, but often translates to “my kid is sick and I have to take care of him day”. That’s what I’ve used it for every single month since my son started daycare.

    Interesting to see the effects of different policies!

    • BobinOz October 13, 2015, 11:14 pm | Link

      Like yourself, I don’t think it’s a good idea to in any way encourage people who are ill to come into work, that means they’re just going to pass it around. Why would any company want that?

      So these perfect attendance awards aren’t great, but I think the Korean system is even worse. You can’t even be genuinely sick? You have to take it directly from your holiday leave? I know you say not all companies do it, but it sounds as though plenty do.

      I like the idea of “period day” except, as a bloke, I want one as well. Equality right? I want “hangover day”. Just once a month 🙂

  • djmcbell April 14, 2015, 1:01 am | Link

    Ah, I still remember when I used to have to answer the phone at work and listen to people concoct stories about why they couldn’t come into work.

    (sounding really throaty) “Yeah, I can’t come in today, I’ve got an upset stomach. Cough, cough”

    • BobinOz April 14, 2015, 2:12 am | Link

      Oh c’mon, have some sympathy, an upset stomach WITH coughing, that is a really serious condition!

  • Robert May 15, 2013, 9:16 am | Link

    Hi Bob
    My daughter lives in Queensland and if she is off work she does not get paid nor does she not get paid for bank holidays ,queens birthday etc, if this was the norm everywhere there would not be many throwing sickies.

    • BobinOz May 15, 2013, 2:54 pm | Link

      Does your daughter work for herself? If she’s in employment, I believe the 10 days paid sick leave is a workers right. Thanks Robert!

  • Joanne Smith May 14, 2013, 10:32 pm | Link

    Like any entitlement there is always the minority who abuse, We have been in Australia for 5 years and live in Canberra a predominant government employed workforce I work for a member organisation with staff who feel that it is their right to take their ‘sick leave’ and part of their annual leave entitlement.

    • BobinOz May 15, 2013, 12:34 am | Link

      I’m not sure it is a minority though, I think a fair number do actually feel it is part of their annual leave entitlement. I’m certain they do not see it as an abuse, I’m not sure I do either.

      When I worked in the UK, there wasn’t a “limit” on the amount of sick days I could have, if I was ill, I was ill, and if I worked for a good company then they would pay me sick pay no matter how long I was ill for.

      If an employee is told, as they are here, that they have 10 days and that’s the limit, then I can see how that might put a different angle on it all. If I’m ill for 20 days, I lose money for 10 of them. If I’m ill for five days, my employer gains but I don’t.

      I think the feeling is employers can’t have it both ways, if they are going to put a maximum limit on it, as an employee I’ll take the maximum. Thank you!

      I’m not saying it’s right or wrong, but I think I can see the workings out, if you see what I mean.

      Cheers

      Bob

  • Becci May 2, 2013, 11:37 am | Link

    Maybe you should write an article of how to survive and what to expect from the first visit from relo’s I love and miss them dearly but jeez it’s blinking hard work – hence my secret stash of wine remember the r whites lemonade advert well that’s what I’ll be like as this time it’s a month at a time not a couple of weeks 🙂

    • BobinOz May 2, 2013, 9:43 pm | Link

      An article? I think it could actually be a book!

      Somebody I knew had their mother-in-law, who was retired, visit for something like 14 months out of the first three years he was here. I think he’s an alcoholic now 🙂

  • Becci April 30, 2013, 8:47 am | Link

    Lol Bob love this article we finally made it after all the worry and have been here 7 months now and I was shocked when hubby came home telling me about the sickness policy I still can’t get my head round it and neither can he but as you say it’s an entitlement and I have spoken to our new Aussie pals and their employers encourage them to take a sick day say if they havent accrued enough holiday ‘ no worries use a sick day …. ‘ 🙂

    • BobinOz April 30, 2013, 8:05 pm | Link

      Glad to hear you have made it, hope you are settling in okay. Yes, it’s a very strange system, isn’t it? I have an Aussie mate here who quite naturally talks about how much holiday/sick leave he has left as if they are both the same thing.

      Strange, but as they say, when in Rome…

      • Becci May 1, 2013, 9:46 am | Link

        Indeed when in Rome but I love this Rome …. We have settled in well boys are loving their new Aussie life and its a busy year with family who have already graced us with a visit and from October – January we are fully booked with family from the UK …. Now that’s going to be a challenge 🙂 best get my wine cellar stocked and that’s just for me !!!!

        • BobinOz May 2, 2013, 12:29 am | Link

          A secret wine cellar for when the relo’s visit, why didn’t I think of that?

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