Government’s shock claim: Only the sick can claim sick pay

You are entitled to sick pay when you are too sick to go to work. It sounds simple, it sounds reasonable. But the problem is that not everyone in Sweden shares the government's views on what the word 'sick' means. This was evident from the results of a national survey on people's attitudes towards the sick pay system.

The survey, commissioned by the National Social Insurance Board (RFV), revealed that 20% of the 1,002 respondents thought that a strike at your child’s dagis (nursery school) was an acceptable reason to call in sick. A further 24% thought it would be acceptable in some circumstances.

Other eyebrow raising findings were that 40% considered tiredness to be an illness and therefore reason enough to claim sick pay and 9% had the same opinion of rows with the boss and other problems with colleagues.

Saturday’s GP pointed out that such attitudes hit employers in the first instance, who pay for the first 21 days of an employee’s sick leave, before it gets referred to the social insurance office (Försäkringskassan).

The article went on to explain that the survey had been commissioned as part of preparing a strategy to meet the government’s target of halving the number of sick days by 2008. Rolf Lundgren, special advisor at the RFV told the paper:

“The survey confirms what we suspected, namely that what lies behind the big increase in the incidence of illness since the 1990’s is a changed view of the sick pay system.”

Sofia Bergström, social insurance expert at employers’ organisation Svenskt Näringsliv, was not particularly surprised either. She told the media on Friday: “We had a survey done on the same subject at the end of 2001. It showed that six out of ten thought it was OK to use the sick pay system for other purposes than being off work due to illness.”

In an article in Friday’s DN, Anna Hedborg, head of the RFV, gave her reaction to the survey. She somewhat charitably referred to the surprising responses as ‘ignorance’ and ‘slipping attitudes’.

However, she explained that if such free interpretations are allowed to continue, the system would lose credibility and a skewed picture would be presented of a number of workplace and welfare problems.

“Discrimination against immigrants in the work place, for example, could become less visible if such conflicts result in employees taking sick leave. Calling things by their correct name can be very effective.”

She promised a hard-hitting information campaign, primarily targeted at those with the freest interpretations of the rules, the 16-25 age group.

“Many may find the message hard or even simply unfeeling. But the truth is that if we don’t defend our social insurance today, we won’t be able to afford to keep it as it is,” she warned.

GP’s website reader survey uncannily reflected the findings of the official version. By Friday 1,500 readers had responded to the question ‘Have you reported sick because you’ve been tired?’ 20% replied that they had, including 5% saying they’d done it often.

Such attitudes were foreign to a hardy group of workers (of all age groups) GP interviewed at Fastighetskontoret i Göteborg. 25 year old Lisa Häggdahl said:

“The question is how many really stay home and take sick pay because they are tired. Here it’s the other way round, we use flexi-time and take time off in lieu when we are sick.”

Karolina Olsson, 35 year old mother of one and pregnant with number two, said: “It would never occur to me to get sick pay for being tired.” She started to work part time in order to cope with both working and family life.

Lisa summed up the reality for many: “When you’re too healthy to be home, but too sick to be at work, you work.”

Sources: Dagens Nyheter, Göteborgs Posten