Budget airline SpiceJet recently checked on five crew members who had called in sick in Delhi and Chennai and found they were not at home and their phones were switched off.
The “get-well-soon” visits were conducted by the airline’s human resource and medical departments.
“We will be taking the strictest action against sick-leave abuse. If you need leave, you follow the process and take leave,” SpiceJet Chief Operating Officer Sanjiv Kapoor wrote in an email to the airline’s cabin crew last Saturday. “This will be grounds for immediate termination. In our turnaround situation, we just cannot accept such indiscipline. The misdeeds of a few end up disrupting the operation and hurting the hard work of many.”
Kapoor added the airline was in the process of streamlining leave application and approval and told crew members to complain to him if leave was denied unfairly.
“We do not comment on illegally leaked emails,” the SpiceJet spokesperson said when asked about Kapoor’s email to the staff.
It is not known how many of SpiceJet’s cabin crew members had reported sick. Industry sources said crew from many airlines had this month interviewed for jobs with a Gulf-based airline in Mumbai and many local airlines had seen their cabin crew go on leave during the period.
SpiceJet’s human resource and medical teams visiting “sick” cabin crew members with cards and flowers was a new practice, said an airline source who did not wish to be named. Kingfisher Airlines, too, had tried to check by sending doctors to their homes if pilots calling in sick were unwell.
Sunil Goel, director of executive search agency GlobalHunt, said: “Companies do not take extreme steps unless there is absenteeism reported in huge volumes.”
The chief executive and founder of a Mumbai-based human resource (HR) consulting firm said with opportunities opening in the aviation industry, fears of poaching had increased. “Reporting sick is considered safe because companies do not verify if an employee is unwell. If an airline chooses to check, it could have a bitter experience,” he added.
According to SpiceJet’s policy, to report sick, the crew member must call coordinators and the rostering unit. For a two-day leave, no medical documents are required, but the employee must report to an airline’s doctor and be certified fit to resume duties. For longer leave, medical documents are required.
Air India allows its flight attendants to take leave by calling the duty manager and the unwell crew member can submit a medical certificate on joining two or three days later. If the illness is prolonged, the flight attendant is expected to report to the company doctor who declares him unfit or otherwise.
Jet Airways’ crew members can no longer call in sick. Procedures were changed two years ago after it was found that cabin crew were reporting sick for casual reasons. A Jet Airways cabin crew member is required to give a medical certificate from day one, but the management is flexible about the rule depending on the illness, according to a source who did not wish to be named.
Personnel management organizations point out companies merely caution employees against taking unplanned leave in order to reduce productivity loss. “‘I am sick,’ continues to be the most common excuse in India and abroad for employees to take leave. Though companies can make surprise checks once or twice — it is not against the law — it is not considered good HR hygiene,” said a global HR consultancy’s chief of engagement and employee relations for the Asia Pacific region, asking not to be named.