LCQ11: Administration of sick leave taken by civil servants
Following is a question by the Hon Andrew Cheng and a written reply by the Secretary for the Civil Service, Miss Denise Yue, in the Legislative Council today (June 25):
Under Civil Service Regulation 1291, if a Head of Department (HoD) considers that an officer is abusing sick leave, he may require the officer to attend a specified government clinic or a clinic of the Hospital Authority or a designated medical officer at these clinics and to obtain a valid sick leave certificate on each occasion the officer wishes to take sick leave, and the sick leave certificates issued by other medical practitioners are not accepted. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:
(a) of the criteria it has adopted for classifying cases where an individual officer "takes sick leave on specific working days frequently", "attends several different medical practitioners for the same illness", and "takes sick leave continually or frequently because of a relatively minor illness", etc., as indications of abuse of sick leave by the officer; if there is no criterion, of its justifications for classifying the above cases as indications of abuse of sick leave by the officer; whether it has consulted the relevant medical organisations before establishing these indications of abuse of sick leave; if not, its justifications for not accepting the sick leave certificates which are issued based on professional diagnosis by the medical practitioners not designated by the Government;
(b) whether it has established a mechanism for officers subject to the Regulation to lodge appeals; if so, of the details of its operation; if not, the reasons for that, and whether there are other channels for reviewing the decisions of HoDs; and
(c) as the departmental management concerned is required to review the cases subject to the Regulation on a quarterly basis, of the details of such reviews, including whether and when the outcome of the completed reviews will be made known to the civil servants subject to the Regulation; if the outcome will not be made known to them, whether the Government will consider so doing to let the officers who have been informed that they are subject to the Regulation know if they are still subject to it?
Sick leave is generally granted to civil servants on production of medical certificates issued by registered medical practitioners. Where there are indications of abuse of sick leave by a civil servant, Civil Service Regulation (CSR) 1291 provides that the Head of Department (HoD) concerned may require the staff concerned to attend before a government or Hospital Authority (HA) doctor(s), or a particular government or HA clinic(s), on each occasion he wishes to take sick leave. The Civil Service Bureau has issued a set of guidelines on the administration of sick leave to all bureaux/departments, reminding the departmental management of the need to monitor sick leave taken by staff, and where necessary, consider taking appropriate follow-up action, such as interviewing staff to better understand their reasons for taking frequent sick leave; reviewing whether some staff are more prone to sickness due to the nature and arrangements of their work; and where there is suspected abuse of sick leave, requiring the staff concerned to produce a medical certificate for sick leave irrespective of the duration, or subjecting the staff concerned to the requirement under CSR 1291.
Regarding part (a) of the question, as the circumstances of each case could be different, there are no hard and fast rules under CSR 1291 on what constitutes abuse of sick leave. HoDs will take into full consideration the merits of individual case and will only invoke the Regulation and require the civil servant concerned to attend a specified government or HA clinic when there are indications of abuse of sick leave. To ensure proper administration of CSR 1291, each case has to be considered by an officer of a rank not lower than Assistant HoD or by a Departmental/Office Secretary, who should also be at least two ranks above the staff whose sick leave is in question, before a decision to impose the requirement under the Regulation can be made.
We understand that it would normally put the departmental management on the alert for possible abuses of sick leave by civil servants in the occurrence of different circumstances such as sick leave being taken frequently on specific working days (e.g. during peak work period or preceding/following scheduled rest days), consultation from different medical practitioners for the same illness, sick leave being taken continually or frequently on account of a relatively minor illness, etc. If such indications are found, the departmental management will consider whether CSR 1291 should be invoked for closer monitoring of any further sick leave to be taken by the staff concerned. The decision of the departmental management to invoke CSR 1291 on a civil servant is a human resource management measure to ensure the proper use of public resources. The civil servant subject to the Regulation can still obtain proper treatment through the Government or HA medical services which are provided by the Government as the employer and are of a consistent standard. As invoking CSR 1291 does not involve medical professional judgement, we do not consider it necessary to consult medical organisations on such an administrative measure. Where the departmental management has doubt on the professional conduct of individual medical practitioners, it will make an enquiry or complaint with the independent statutory body responsible for overseeing the professional conduct of medical practitioners, i.e. the Medical Council.
Regarding part (b) of the question, there are established channels for civil servants to voice their complaints on staff-management related issues, including application of CSR 1291, and for different levels of management to deal with such complaints. Civil servants aggrieved by the requirement under CSR 1291 may approach the relevant departmental management for enquiry or complaint and it is incumbent on the departmental management to take follow-up action and reply to the staff. Complaints against a decision made by an officer of the rank of Assistant HoD should be reviewed by an officer of a higher rank in the department. Decisions made by a HoD will be reviewed by the Civil Service Bureau. Under the established mechanism, the departmental management should review all cases of staff subject to CSR 1291 on a quarterly basis, irrespective of whether the staff concerned have raised any objection.
As for part (c) of the question, the departmental management will explain the relevant arrangements, including the effective date on which the restrictions will commence, to the staff concerned before subjecting him to the requirement under CSR 1291. Also, the departmental management will review each of these cases on a quarterly basis by monitoring the sick leave taken by the civil servant concerned during the period. On being satisfied that there is no further concern of abuse of sick leave by the staff concerned, the departmental management will lift the requirement and will inform him of the decision. But before that, the staff concerned remains subject to the restrictions imposed on him under CSR 1291.
Wednesday, June 25, 2008