Israel's Top Wage Earners Call in Sick the Most, Survey Finds

TheMarker survey finds new sick-days law, which instituted more general pay for time taken off due to illness, hasn't led to more absenteeism.

At the Histadrut's urging, the Knesset on Thursday approved an amendment to the Sick Days Law, whose passage in April 2011 increased payments for each day taken off for illness.

Proponents of the change argued it wasn't fair that a worker was getting only 37% of his salary starting with his second and third days off for illness, or 75% from the fourth day. The amendment's supporters pointed out that an employee who can't manage without his full pay will end up working even when he is ill.

Opponents contended that the more generous payments which the Knesset finally approved - 50% of salary for the second and third days, and 100% from day four - would simply encourage employees to call in sick. It should be noted that these rules apply to sick days taken with a doctor's authorization.

A year has passed since the law went into force and the fears of those who thought the more generous terms would cause a steep rise in the number of employees calling in sick have not been borne out. However, the pessimists may not have been entirely wrong: Figures compiled by Hashavim, a labor market research firn, found that illness-related absences have grown by 5%.

"While this is a change in the trend, it is not a sea change," said Aibi Meir, Hashavim's CEO. "We need to wait another year to reach any clear conclusions." Against that, attorney Michal Shamir, an expert on labor law at Data Fax, says the growth in sick days was on the order of 10%.

"Employers from all sectors of the economy report to me about a rise in the number of employees staying at home sick," she said. "Ailing employees say to themselves, 'If I'm already not feeling well, I'll stay home for a week to get the higher payment. No doubt employees are motivated to be sick and absent themselves from work and employers are grumbling."

A survey conducted for TheMarker by Oketz Systems, a company that offers salary and other labor-related services to businesses, examined the sick days reported by workers throughout the economy in the first five months of this year, compared with the same time in 2011. The survey involved 9,000 pay slips and reports of absence from work at 247 companies and businesses from a wide range of industries.

The rich get 'sicker'

One of the most interesting trends the survey found is that the higher one's salary, the more likely he or she was to take sick days under the new law. Security guards took 20% fewer days and cleaners 6.7% fewer, while in the food industry the number fell 27.3%.

In financial services, line banks, investment houses and insurance companies, the number of sick days rose. In high-tech, employees took 10% more sick days than a year earlier. Managers take more days (3.1 on average ) than ordinary workers (2.5 ). Blue collar workers are less likely to take sick days than white-collar workers.

Ami Bergman, Oketz's co-CEO, isn't surprised. Managers feel more secure about their jobs than lower-level workers, he says. "In addition, many employers in high-tech, trade and services pay their employees their full wage for sick days, which is to say not everyone works according to the terms of the law."

Women take more sick days than men, whether it is low-skilled, low-salaried jobs or those at the upper reaches of the labor force. Women took 50% more sick days than men both before and after the law, which is almost certainly because they are more likely than men to take time off to care for sick children.

But women in high-tech are more likely than women cleaners or security guards to take days off - by a factor of three (5.3 days versus 1.7 for cleaners and 1.4 for guards ).

Unexpectedly, older workers are less likely to call in sick than younger ones. Thus, high-tech workers under 30 took an average of 5.4 days off for illness in the five months studied, while those over 40 took just three. In insurance, the average for younger employees was 5.4 days versus 3.3 for workers over 40.

Even among cleaning workers, whose jobs are more physically demanding, older workers were less likely to take sick days. Those over 40 took an average of 0.7 days, while those under 30 took 1.8.

Employees in the center of the country are far more likely to call in sick than those in the periphery - an average of three days, compared with 1.8 in the south and 1.9 in the north in the first five months of 2012.

Shamir attributed this to higher levels of job security in the center than other parts of the country. In the periphery there are relatively few jobs and few opportunities to find better ones, so people with jobs act more cautiously.