Opinion – Further abolition of the sick note is a futile endeavour

Petra De Sutter’s ambition to extend the abolition of the sick note does not guarantee falling absenteeism rates. A generic expansion from one to three days seems doomed to fail its purpose, believes Dr Gretel Schrijvers, CEO of Mensura group.


The sick note continues to stir controversy. General practitioners are complaining about the administrative inconvenience, and some employers fear abuse of absences without attestation. However, the initial figures are encouraging. The abolition of the one-day sick note (up to a maximum of three times a year) does not seem to increase the number of sick days employees take. On the contrary, the number of employees reporting in sick is increasing, but the total number of sick days taken is decreasing. In any case, large-scale abuse does not seem to be an issue.

Limited impact

Bolstered by that evolution, Minister Petra De Sutter now wants to move forward. She is pushing to allow employees to stay home for up to three consecutive days without a doctor’s note, for a total of up to three times a year. The intention is noble, but seems mainly to ease workloads for general practitioners. However, the impact on absenteeism will be limited as the measure does not tackle the root of the evil.

‘Not done’

Johann Leten of VOKA Limburg called the proposal to extend the period of absence without a note ‘not done’. VOKA is of the opinion that organisations should decide for themselves whether or not sick notes must be submitted. That approach is already more detailed, and allows companies that have good policies around absenteeism to effectively do away with the sick note. Organisations that have clear policies and focus on trust and employability can afford to go this route.

No room for dialogue

But what about organisations that haven’t gotten to that point? It appears that they’ll have less and less control over absenteeism if De Sutter’s proposal is effective. And therein lies the crux of the matter: the sick note is effectively a wall between employer and employee. Because of the focus on the medical aspect (the disease), there is hardly any room for dialogue between employer and employee, even though it is crucial to stop the ever-increasing short- and long-term absenteeism figures.

It is up to organisations to take the fight against absenteeism seriously and reach out.
The reality of long-standing vacancies and shortage occupations offers no other choice.
Working towards a culture where avoiding absenteeism and promoting well-being go hand in hand is the only way to reduce absenteeism rates. Therefore, let companies take control and ensure maximum employability of their employees.