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Sickness absences investigated

THIRTY-ONE per cent of employees signed off sick or receiving incapacity benefit in Portugal have nothing wrong with them.

These are the findings of a latest crackdown by Portugal’s Social Security, which estimates that 15,000 so-called baixas (sick notes) are fraudulent.

In the first four months of 2007 alone, around 110,000 employees signed off sick, one half of which were called in by Social Security to check they actually were incapable of working.

Around 31 per cent were caught red handed cheating the system and receiving benefits despite being well enough to work, while 6,500 saw their benefits immediately cut off because their medical certificates were either fake or inadequate.

House visits

Part of the Social Security’s investigation also included visits to claimants’ houses finding that 40 per cent were either in  ‘irregular’ situations or were persistently absent from their registered home address without justification.

According to information released by the Ministry of Work and Social Security, 61,750 signed off work were forced to attend a medical by an approved Social Security doctor.

So far, the investigations have saved the country’s Social Security system around two million euros for May alone, while in April, 20,815 were ordered to visit a government approved doctor or risk having their benefits cut off.

This number represented 52 per cent more people asked to undergo a medical than in the first three months of the year and 73 per cent more than in the whole of 2006.

Second opinion

The nationwide get-tough on claimants operation, which has been at its most intense in April and May, is part of the government’s Plano de Combate à Fraude e Evasão Fiscal, a plan to fight  fraud and tax evasion, instigated when José Sócrates and the PS government came to power just over two years ago.

Under new rules, anyone signed off by their doctor for more than 30 days will be invited to attend a government appointed doctor for a second opinion. There are currently 200,000 claiming benefits for sickness or disability in Portugal out of a working population of around six million.

On average in Portugal, an employee takes 7.2 days a year off sick, according to a study carried out by the consultants Mercer.