The mandate given to the BOS (Bérard-Oustric-Seiller) working party was to try and cut back on the spiralling costs to the public purse of sickness absences. With leak after leak, over recent months, we got to hear about radical measures…to an extent that became a worry for employer federations. And rightly so! Despite some highly intelligent proposals, one gets the strange impression that the BOS report only wants to make employers pay for sick leave. A posture that is totally unbalanced and, in our opinion, bound to fail. Of course, we need to remind employers of their responsibility in combating absenteeism, but not to the extent that we take the weight off workers’ shoulders! Here are our suggestions for improving the current system in an efficient manner.

Two or three days waiting period: explosive but efficient!

In order to reduce sick leave, we propose quite simply to introduce a set waiting period of two or three days, i.e. a time franchise not covered by the employer continuing to pay salary nor covered by insurance. In order to judge the dissuasive effect of such measures, it is sufficient to look at the period 2012-2013 when a one-day waiting period was imposed on State employees only to be cancelled when the government majority changed. According to a study by the National Institute of Statistics and Economic Studies (INSEE), the number of 2-day sickness absences, during that interlude, were cut in half almost immediately.

For short-term sickness absences, some doctors do indeed tend to “generously” prescribe 5 days sick leave when they could limit this to 1 or 2 days. The common cold then becomes very expensive. If a fixed waiting period were introduced, it would be in the interest of the employee to obtain the right duration of sick leave or else use up one or two days accumulated leave in order to avoid any penalties. By proposing a fixed one-day waiting period for all employees, the BOS report is heading in the right direction but all too timidly.

Use the employee’s Time Savings Account as a sweetener

Obviously, such a measure would certainly provoke reactions on the part of public opinion. The employee would lose all pay for the two or three day waiting period and the employer would have nothing to pay. In view of this, we propose that the employer compensates for the loss of pay by crediting the employee’s Time Savings Account (CET) with the equivalent of the money saved. This means the employee on sick leave would only lose out over the short term. Their pay would, in effect, simply be postponed. This would be a way of maintaining the dissuasive effect of that waiting period whilst appeasing critics of the measure who see it as a free gift to employers at staff expense. In addition, with the PACTE law, promoting staff retirement savings is flavour of the month!

Subrogation: penalised twice

Finally, we reject the idea of making subrogation the rule. With such a system, the employer would pay all sums due as compensation to the staff member and would then apply on their behalf for their Social Security Daily Benefits (IJSS in French). Today, many companies do not practice subrogation for obvious reasons. Subrogation, in fact, generates tiresome paperwork: filing applications for compensation, obtaining Social Security refunds and managing the process. Following up on such applications is complex for small companies or in some industries where staff turnover and short-term contracts are common. And the last straw: subrogation constitutes an advance on cash flow, which is not the company’s vocation.

Wouldn’t it be better to let the staff member make their own application to Social Security and follow up on the application themselves? Should we really be asking companies to take over management of the staff member’s personal Social Security application when on sick leave? Making subrogation the rule would, in the end, penalise the employer by putting extra workload on them at a time when they are already penalised by the absence of a staff member: a double penalty!

Damien Vieillard-Baron

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