Employees of the Department of Home Affairs, which is overseen by Minister Peter Dutton, are reported to have been caught claiming fraudulent sick leave – with one particular employee submitting 29 fraudulent medical certificates over a 6-year period.
The figures, obtained under freedom of information laws, are the result of an internal investigation within department – which amalgamated immigration, border protection, law enforcement and intelligence units last year.
The review found that staff members had colluded to produce and file fake medical expense claims, and repeatedly abused their powers.
The employee who allegedly filed 29 fake claims between 2011 and 2017 is said to have supplied two certificates from doctors who later denied issuing them, and 21 from a doctor who had ceased employment at the relevant medical clinic by the time of the claimed sick days.
Sick leave fraud
As the most prolific alleged offender is no longer employed by the department, he will not face internal sanctions.
However, the fact the conduct gave rise to financial benefits expose that employee to a potential criminal prosecution for fraud.
Section 192E of the NSW Crimes Act 1900 makes it an offence to obtain property belonging to another, or obtain any financial advantage or cause a financial disadvantage to another, where this is done dishonestly and by deception.
The maximum penalty is 10 years imprisonment if the case is finalised in a higher court such as the District Court, or two years in the Local Court.
To be found guilty, the prosecution must prove beyond reasonable doubt that the defendant:
- By deception, acted dishonestly, and
- These actions created a financial advantage over another person’s property, or caused them to suffer a financial disadvantage, and
- The actions were intentional or reckless.
There is no evidence the alleged sick leave frauds were referred to police for criminal investigation.
The same departmental investigation suggested that another public servant changed the font on a legitimate medical certificate, then photocopied it to create a fraudulent one which extended the dates of sick leave.
When confronted, the employee is said to have claimed he ‘couldn’t remember’ the exact details, but that he became ill after being overseas, and the medical centre suggested ‘quarantine’ for a few days.
The claimed sum was reportedly deducted from that employee’s pay, but it’s understood the conduct did not result in termination or other sanctions.
The department says it considers all misconduct very seriously, and is taking “robust action… against individuals where corrupt conduct is identified. This also includes referring matters to the Australian Commission for Law Enforcement Integrity.”
Public sector workers take more sick leave
A recent report conducted by the University of South Australia concluded that workers in the public sector are more stressed than their peers in the private sector.
The finding was made on the basis that for decades, the number of stress claims in the public service has far outweighed those from private enterprise. But many disagree with the survey’s conclusion on the basis that public sector workers are more likely to apply for sick leave than their private sector counterparts, rather than more stressed.
Earlier this year Australia’s Public Service Commissioner defended the amount of sick days taken by public sector employees, when figures surfaced that the rate of sick leave had increased in a third of all government agencies and departments.
Despite promising a crackdown on unscheduled leave at the beginning of his tenure in 2014, Commissioner John Lloyd said he does not want the public service culture to be as tough as the private sector, where he claimed workers are scared to take leave.
The high cost of unhappy employees
Stress and depression cost Australian workplaces tens of millions of dollars every year – both in the public and private sectors.
High stress levels can lead to disengagement, reduced productivity, physical illness and absence from work.
Most health professionals agree that prevention is better (and cheaper) than any cure. They feel many workplaces have a long way to go to promote happier environments, with less bullying and harassment, and less stress, all of which impact an employees’ health and wellbeing.