Fighting the slackers

Фото: Штепанка Будкова

Both the Czech authorities and also many businesses have long expressed concerns that too many employees are taking far too many days off on sick leave. The country has recently changed the way that sick pay is administered in order to prevent fraud. However, some employers are still taking drastic measures to catch those that abuse the system.

EU figures reveal that while average absenteeism is 3% in Europe, in the Czech Republic it is double that – 6%. This year, the government changed the sick-leave system – now instead of 40% pay received for the first three days of illness, the employee gets nothing. After that, they get 60% of their pay. This move, along with the introduction of fees of 30 crowns for doctor’s visits is meant, at least according to the government, to reduce fraudulent and frivolous misuse of the system. But some critics note that this has led to many Czech reporting to work ill for fear of losing a part of their salaries.

Yet, many companies still believe that certain employees are bunking off – claiming they are sick, when they are not. Employees on sick leave already face the prospect of random visits from representatives from the Ministry of Labour but now they face a new challenge – private detectives.

Jana Pařízková is a sociologist for ABL, a company which provides detectives to companies checking up on their employees. I asked her if this approach wasn’t perhaps a little Orwellian:

“When you present it a certain way, it can seem like something very repressive, that people are being spied on and having their privacy invaded. But that is not the full story – that aspect is just a small part of the project. Sociological studies are playing a key role too, in that they are trying to uncover some wider causes for absenteeism in a given company. Such reasons could be a poor work environment, poor staff or management, etc.”

Reports suggest that increasingly, Czech employers are hiring private detectives to check up on their staff. Typically, these detectives are given the details of a suspect employee and are then tasked with finding out whether they are truly at home in bed. But there are also some interesting twists. If an employee is at home when the detective knocks, then the latter may simply pose as a company representative, hand out some vitamins and ask the person to fill out a questionnaire.

Yet Jana Pařízková believes that these efforts underline a key problem in the country:

“This has been a big problem for years. For as long as I have been looking at statistics that compare absenteeism in the Czech Republic versus other countries, the Czech Republic has being doing very poorly. Other studies show that there is no legitimate reason why the health of people here should be worse than in other countries. So this has been around for a long time – but the interest of employers to deal with it now in an urgent way is because a new law comes into effect in January 2009, which will mean that employers, not insurance companies will have to pay absentee salaries.”

The Czech authorities are clearly waging war on absenteeism, but as to whether their approach is the correct one, only time will tell.