Little malingering among Norwegian employees

Norwegians rarely take extra days off work on the false pretence of being sick. The risk of pay-back time when salary raises are granted could be an explanation.

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Norwegian sick pay benefits are arguably the most generous in the world, with full pay during absences from day one which continue up to a whole year of sick leave. Longer sick leaves require documentation from a physician. But employees are also guaranteed the right to take as many as three days off at a time by filling out a form, a self-certification for absence due to sickness. This right can be used four times a year, a maximum of 12 days.

Employees in firms that have accepted the Inclusive Working Life Agreement (IA Agreement) have twice as many self-certification days.

Could be abused

“As an economist we see there can be grounds for worry that the self-certification scheme could be abused. Absences certainly represent outlays for employers,” says Daniel Bergsvik.

Bergsvik is today a researcher at Sirus, the Norwegian Institute for Alcohol and Drug Research, and he recently took his doctorate in economy on the basis of three studies of absences due to sickness.

“We found no indications that such misuse is widespread,” says Daniel Bergsvik.

Why don’t wage-earners use their right to self-certification more than they do, calling in to work and saying they are sick?

Bergsvik considered whether this can be attributed to indirect costs for the employees.

“In theory, the employer can send the costs of absences back to the employee by giving lower raises in pay,” says Bergsvik.

Together with his former colleagues at the Ragnar Frisch Centre for Economic Research he analysed self-certified absences among 700 employees in 13 companies in a large Norwegian concern that has signed the IA Agreement.

While little indicated a tendency toward malingering, they found that employees who had a lot of absences using self-certification on average were awarded lower individual pay raises. Nevertheless, they do not think this testifies to a systematic reaction from employers.

“Such penalties might have a larger symbolic than financial impact on the employee,” concludes Bergsvik.

The employees were on average absent from work 2.6 days a year using self-certifications. Very few of them were gone on three consecutive days and most returned to work before they had to.

Almost no one used their extended IA quota of 24 days, according to the study.

Half and half

On average a little over half of the employees, 55 percent, used self-certifications. But gender differences were seen.

Over half of the men had no self-certified absences whatsoever. Only one in ten men used more than two such sick leaves per year.

Women were not slackers either. About a third of them had no such absences in the course of a calendar year. Only a fraction of the women used many self-certifications per year.

Just 18 percent had more than one self-certification absence in two consecutive calendar years. Very few workers used up their entire quotas of such absences.

Monday morning effect

Bergsvik looked beyond these averages to see whether anybody was abusing the scheme just to skip work.

Higher absenteeism adjacent to weekends could indicate an over-use of self-certified leaves. But the authors of the study found no higher spike in absences on Fridays.

More self-certifications start on a Monday than on other days. This is often called the Monday morning effect. But it can be explained by the fact that illnesses starting on the weekend when employees are off work are not registered until Monday.

Younger employees have more absences

Twenty-year-olds were conspicuous with a higher share of self-certified absences and the use of them decreases with age. Frequency of use differed by 20 percent between the lower and upper age group. 

The youngest employ, both women and men, also take more individual leaves, not just more days off. 

Absences due to sickness, whether self-certified or attested by doctors, are more common in the youngest group. Bergsvik found that some employees had much of both types.


Read the Norwegian version of this article at

Translated by: Glenn Ostling

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