Flu sick leave open to abuse

Portugal’s Social Security is expected to spend an additional €9 million on sickness benefits for the month of February, which registered the worst flu outbreak since records began in the country.

In February, a total of 121,629 people submitted sick leave applications to the Social Security, an average of 4,194 a day and 25,727 more than in the previous month.

The February flu outbreak, which is believed to be responsible for the increase in sick leave applications (more than 25,700), is expected to cost the State around €9 million.

In its budget for 2012, the State had set aside €426 million to be spent on sickness benefits. However, the high number of flu cases in Portugal, with similar figures expected in March, is placing a strain on the country’s Social Security, which is currently undergoing a massive cost-cutting programme.

In a bid to combat sick leave fraud and abuse, the Government is currently looking at reducing sick pay up to one month by 10% and, for more than one month sick leave, 55% of a person’s monthly wage will be paid.

The thousands of cases of flu have been pointed as one of the main reasons, along with depression and muscle pain, for people requesting time off for sickness in February.

Other high incidences of flu were recorded in February last year when 148,775 people submitted sick leave applications to the Social Security and in December 2009, with 131,805 people requesting paid time off for sickness.

In June last year, Portugal was listed the second country in Europe to record the most sick leave applications (117,671), only surpassed by Bulgaria.

Flu and cold weather

In February this year, around 46,000 people in Portugal were treated for the flu, while the extreme cold and flu outbreak are pointed by the Instituto Nacional de Saúde Dr Ricardo Jorge as the main reasons for the high number of deaths that month (14,583), 1,947 more than in February last year (12,636).

Most of those who died were elderly people aged 75 and more.