PETALING JAYA: With more Malaysians prioritising a better work-life balance, experts say more changes should be introduced for companies to foster a healthier work environment.

New changes under the Employment Act 1955 to working hours and arrangements, which are set to come into effect on Jan 1 next year, include weekly working hours being from 48 to 45 hours, flexible working arrangements, 98 days of maternity leave (at present it’s 60 days) and the introduction of seven days of paternity leave.

However, experts feel that more changes can be implemented and they called on the government to keep abreast of steps being taken in other countries amid the Covid-19 pandemic.

They noted that, among others, the private sector should be encouraged to introduce honour-based sick leave, where an employee can take paid medical leave without the need for a medical certificate (MC).

Malaysian Employers Federation president Datuk Dr Syed Hussain Syed Husman said honour-based sick leave can be incorporated when there is trust between employer and employee.

He said such a flexible leave system first arose during the pandemic when employees, upon getting a positive result in a self-test, would report to the employer for medical leave to quarantine themselves and refrain from coming to work, thereby curbing the spread of Covid-19.

“The key concern for employers is that such a system may be abused by employees and disrupt work operations.

“In some developed countries like the United Kingdom, employees can take time off work if they are ill. They only need to furnish proof to their employer if they are unwell for more than seven days,” he said.

Syed Hussain added that it is necessary to define the situations where such sick leave is granted, for example, for highly contagious sicknesses or recovery from an injury or a medical procedure.

“The policy for employees taking honour-based sick leave may include the need to inform the supervisor and obtain approval except for emergencies,” he said, adding that the number of days in a year allowed for such leave would also need to be clearly defined.

He suggested that such leave be treated as medical leave that will be deducted from the employee’s eligibility for MCs in the calendar year.

Syed Hussain said other measures that should be implemented to satisfy employees’ work-life balance needs include the acceptance of a flexible work environment that features the hybrid work model or flexible working hours.

He added that companies should also have some form of organised activities to encourage exercise and good eating habits.

Human resources manager Masrah Marsinda said the honour-based sick leave should be normalised, especially when an employee is down with an infectious disease like Covid-19 or influenza.

“The awareness of infectious diseases has started due to Covid-19, so this practice of taking quarantine leave, even without an MC, to avoid others being infected should be continued,” she said.

She also said there should be guidelines to regulate such leave, such as the number of days and the health condition which permits an employee to take the leave.

“This can be done to avoid situations where companies lose manpower because an entire office is infected. However, when a person is infected and has no symptoms or very mild symptoms, they should be able to work from home,” she added.

Masrah also feels that such leave should be considered quarantine leave and deducted from a worker’s hospitalisation quota for the year.

Labour law expert Datuk Thavalingam Thavarajah said workers would still need to submit some form of proof to take sick leave to prevent abuse of the system.

“Work-life balance is an important component in maintaining a healthy workforce, but we also need to take into account the nature of the business and the employee’s work,” he said.

He added that the workings of the concept of work-life balance should be included in the company handbook or manuals to avoid any confusion that may lead to disputes.

National Association of Human Resources Malaysia president Zarina Ismail said there must be understanding and communication between an employee and employer in order to create balance at work.

“Employees need to have good mental and physical health to achieve productivity at work and to provide this, employers need to create a conducive working environment,” she said.

Zarina encouraged employees to communicate their condition, such as when they are overworked or burnt out, to their employers.

“Most employers will understand, especially when these staff members are involved in tasks that require them to work continuously for long hours,” she said.

She added that employees should also declare if they face any mental health issues so that their employers are aware and can address them accordingly.