The “workplace warrior”

Past generations grew up with the mentality of turning up for work no matter how sick they were feeling. Sick leave was not actively taken unless absolutely necessary and even then with great reluctance. There are many people who still have this attitude in the modern workplace and are often described as ‘workplace warriors’.

The ‘sickie’

To try to address the “sickie” (taking sick leave when not actually sick) - employers have introduced sick leave policies that specifically require employees to produce medical certificates for all absences. This is merely strict enforcement of the provisions of the NES governing personal / carer’s leave which require evidence to be provided in support of every absence.

Certainly the “sickie” is now more easily scrutinised as the result of the constant reporting phenomenon of social media where employees “sharing” from the beach, the cricket or a concert are more likely than not to be discovered by someone at work. This certainly warrants disciplinary action as the “sickie” is certainly a misuse of the sick leave benefit.

Time for an Attitude Change

Both ‘workplace warriors’ and ‘sickie’ takers are bad for the modern workplace on several key levels:

  •  Negative impact on workplace morale.
  •  Spreading of illness throughout the workplace.
  •  Creation of a culture of dishonesty & resentment in the workplace.
  •  Destruction of trust, a fundamental feature of an employment relationship.

There are ways that employers and employees can facilitate a change in attitude towards sick leave:

  • Employers should have a clearly written Sick Leave Policy, based on the NES or other prevailing industrial instrument.
  • Employers should explain to all employees its expectations when it comes to the taking of sick leave. Educate the employees in terms of the ‘costs’ (see above for examples) of people abusing their sick leave entitlements or not following the Sick Leave Policy – including that workplace colleagues are left with work undone while the “sickie” is taken, damaging workplace friendships. 
  • Highlight that the Sick Leave Policy and expectations are about respecting, caring, trusting and being honest with their employer and fellow employees – taking support of paid sick leave when it is really needed.
  • Reminders, about the Sick Leave Policy and expectations, sent to all staff in peak ‘sickness’ seasons for example, during cold/flu season.
  • Employees should take sick leave when they are sick.

This all helps to create a healthy workplace environment and culture.

Employees with no sick leave entitlements

In some cases, employers may allow access to other accrued paid entitlements (such as annual leave) for sick leave purposes. These situations should be managed carefully and in compliance with the applicable industrial instrument. Certainly, no ill employee should be compelled to use their annual leave in such circumstances – unless they genuinely wish to.


The culture of taking every sick day that accrues can have long term consequences – we are often called on to deal with situations such as that of Fred (not his real name), who after more than 20 years of employment had not one accrued but unused sick day to his name – he took them all the moment they were available as he believed they were his “entitlement” to take.

Unfortunately for Fred, he suffered a (non-work related) serious heart attack and required 9 months off work. If Fred had not taken every sick day – he would have had plenty of paid sick leave to cover this situation – but unfortunately he did not. As a result, Fred was forced to take a sickness benefit from the Government at a much reduced rate of pay causing financial pressure at a time he needed it the least.

Final Thought

Sick leave is a paid entitlement provided to employees to support them when they are genuinely ill – it should be used by employees when they are genuinely ill and not otherwise. Using this entitlement in this way creates a healthy workplace and an environment of trust.

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