Employees are about to get 10 sick days a year: Here's everything you need to know

Employees will be able to take an extra five days of sick leave per year from tomorrow with the current five-day entitlement set to double.

Under the Holidays Increasing Sick Leave Amendment Bill, which passed its final reading on May 19, employee paid sick leave will increase to 10 days per year from July 24.

New Zealand Council of Trade Unions President Richard Wagstaff is welcoming the increase. 

"Working people successfully campaigned for this improvement to paid sick leave. Working people need to be able to stay away from work when they are sick without penalty. The extension from 5 to 10 days sick leave will significantly help people do just that."

"COVID-19 has proven to us all how important it is to stay home when we are unwell, not just for the individual, but for the workplace and the wider community. Increasing sick leave means that collectively we are all better able to combat contagious illness. This is how it should be."

But Wagstaff did note more work is still needed to improve Kiwis' working conditions.

"We look forward to seeing the progression of Fair Pay Agreements as a tangible step which will lift wages and make work better."

The increase is also being celebrated by The New Zealand Public Services Association. 

National secretary Kerry Davies says it will make a huge difference for thousands of people. 

"This will also make a big difference to parents and those who care for whānau, who need to take leave when their dependents are sick. Being able to take sick leave, rather than annual leave, means people can use annual leave for its intended purpose - rest, relaxation and recuperation."

Davies said while 10 days is a great start, it's not perfect. 

"Anyone who has experienced an illness like cancer knows how fast sick leave and annual leave can dry up. An ideal leave system would provide leave for workers as they need it."

To help employees understand what they're entitled to under the new sick leave provisions before July 24, Newshub asked the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE)  for a refresher on the rules.

When do the 10 days' annual sick leave start?

From July 24, the minimum amount of paid sick leave available to New Zealand employees will be 10 days per year.

MBIE confirms employees are able to take up to 10 days' sick leave after six months working for their employer, or from their next 'entitlement date'.

"Your entitlement date is the 12-month anniversary of when you last became entitled to sick leave," MBIE manager employment standards Chris Hubscher says. 

He adds that some companies may allow employees who are sick from July 24 to take up to 10 days' sick leave immediately. And some companies already provide sick leave of 10 days or more - if this is the case, there's no change.

"Employees who already receive an entitlement to 10 or more sick leave days a year will not be affected by the change," Hubscher adds.

I work part-time - am I still entitled to 10 days' sick leave?

Yes, MBIE confirms from July 24, all employees, including part-timers, are entitled to the same minimum amount of sick leave.

As explained in question one, they're entitled to receive sick leave after working for their employer for six months, their next entitlement date (or earlier if provided by their employer).

If I'm off work sick, do I need to provide a doctor's certificate?  

Employees who call in sick may be asked to provide a doctor's certificate, which MBIE says is within an employer's rights.

But depending on the amount of sick leave taken, there are set rules around who pays for it.

"An employer can ask for a doctor's certificate after an employee has been sick or injured for three consecutive days," Hubscher said.

If an employee has been off work for less than three consecutive days and their employer asks for a doctor's certificate, "the employer must cover the cost of getting the certificate".

How many sick days can be accrued?

MBIE confirms that if sick leave is unused, the 10 days of leave can carry over to a "maximum of 20 days" in a given year.

Can sick leave be paid out when I leave employment?

No, unlike annual leave, MBIE confirms sick leave isn't paid out when leaving an employer.

More information about sick leave is available on the MBIE website.