Experts present their sick leave cure

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A group of health care and labour experts handed over their recommendations for lowering sick leave costs to government ministers on Wednesday. Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg has been leading the charge to get more Norwegians back to work, but it also has emerged that the ministers don’t always follow sick leave rules themselves.

Stoltenberg’s panel of eight experts came up with their prescription for reducing sick leave, boosting productivity and cutting costs. The panel included the heads of the Norwegian doctors’ and nurses’ associations, top union leaders, researchers and a director of employers’ organization NHO.

They agreed on a variety of methods for getting sick Norwegian back to work and keeping them on the job. Their main recommendation involves greater use of gradert (incremental) sick leave and less use of 100 percent sick leave. The idea is that even those with an illness or injury may be able to work on a reduced scale, with doctors, employers and patients working together to find a solution.

The experts also suggested changes in how employers and the state share the cost of covering sick pay. At present, employers cover the cost of a worker’s first 16 days off the job, and then the state picks up the tab. The panel proposed reducing that to 10 days, but in turn employers would be required to cover the cost of a certain percentage of the sick employee’s pay. That would provide an incentive for employers to stay in better touch with workers on long-term sick leave, and follow up on ways of getting them back to work.The report was formally turned over to Labour Minister Hanne Bjurstrøm and most politicians and others involved said they needed more time to read it before commenting on its details. Initial reaction, though, seemed positive that the reform sought by Stoltenberg could become reality. Patients themselves were unlikely to lose sick leave benefits.

The report coincided with news reports, meanwhile, that even government ministers have had trouble adhering to sick leave rules when on sick leave themselves. Newspaper Aftenposten reported that ministers haven’t always seen to it that their own sick leave has been registered.

The Defense Ministry saw a need to send out an e-mail regarding “deficient registration of sick leave” and notice of “new routines” to ensure that sick leave is properly recorded.

Justice Minister Knut Storberget, former Transport Minister Liv Signe Navarsete and current Transport Minister Magnhild Meltveit Kleppa all had relatively lengthy sick leaves last year. Even Stoltenberg himself suffered a cold last week, and his wife has been on sick leave after an accident in their new home.

It wasn’t immediately clear which ministers had failed to file proper reports. “I don’t know anything about this,” Stoltenberg told Aftenposten . An e-mail from his communications chief later claimed that doctors’ authorizations of sick leave “are registered in the same way as for all other employees,” but that the Office of the Prime Minister maintains its own overview of sick leave for “political leaders” since those costs aren’t covered by state welfare agency NAV.