Sick leave payouts to rise in 2005

The previously declining number of people on sick leave in Sweden has levelled out. As a result, the Social Insurance Office, Försäkringskassan, has been forced to adjust its planned expenditure for 2005.

Sick leave cost the state 36 billion crowns last year. It was expected that this year’s figure would be lower – in the region of 35,4 billion. However, according to Thursday’s Dagens Nyheter it now seems likely the figure for this year will now raise by 5%.

Curt Malmborg, General Director of Försäkringskassan, told Swedish Radio that the reason is that the number of people on sick-leave has not diminished at the same rate as this time last year.

“The prognosis should be seen as a warning signal,” Malmborg said.

“It’s not certain it will be as bad as this, but we have to look closely at things over the coming months. We’ll have another prognosis available in the spring.”

The last two years have witnessed a clear downswing in the number of Swedes on sick leave, partly due to a tougher stance by the local offices dishing out the cash. However, that approach brings about its own problems.

In Uppsala this week the civil court found that the local Försäkringskassan had been wrong to refuse sick pay to a man who declared himself “100% incapable of working” after his female boss had “exposed him to insults, bullying and harassment”.

After hearing evidence from the man’s doctor, the court decided that the man was entitled to sick pay.

And in Pajala, in Norrland, a man has reported Försäkringskassan to the police for “abuse of authority”. The paper Norrländska Socialdemokraten reported that Åke Lauri, a 56 year old who has worked since he was 14, was off sick with vascular cramps in 2001.

This came after 10 years of cardiac problems, and in February 2002 a cardiac doctor proposed that Lauri should be given full early retirement on the grounds of his illness.

But his Försäkringskassan disagreed.

“I must be the only person in Sweden who hasn’t got sick benefit in connection with a heart operation,” Lauri told Norrländska Socialdemokraten.

He has now reported the office to the police and is claiming up to 700,000 crowns he says he is owed.

“To be treated in this way has had a very negative effect on me, both physically and psychologically,” he said. “So I’m also going to claim compensation.”

It’s unclear why the latest figures show the declining trend has come to an end. According to SR, it’s possible the improving job market has affected things: after all, more people working means more people on sick leave.

2005 also saw the introduction of a new system whereby employers will cover 15% of sick-pay. The government hopes that this will encourage employers, according to SR, to see that employees are quickly back at work.

Curt Malmborg believes this system is likely to make a difference.

“I’m sure we’ll see the effect of this, even by May. But I’m not at all sure how much of an effect it will have,” he admitted.

Although fewer Swedes are on sick leave, the number taking early retirement is on the up. For Försäkringskassan, this means costs are likely to be high for the foreseeable future.

“We just have to live with this,” Malmborg told SR. “We know from experience that employees who’ve been on long term sick-leave struggle to get back to work.”

Sources: Dagens Nyheter, Upsala Nya Tidning, Norrländska Socialdemokraten, SR