27 Sep 2017

Sorry, can’t come to work today. I have a severe honesty infection

Over the course of its complex history of being constantly over run and forced under the control of foreign powers, Poland has evolved a species of European with an epigenetic distrust of governments and a genius for disobedience.

Zuzanna Ziomecka
Zuzanna Ziomecka Gazeta Wyborcza, Poland
Source: Gazeta Wyborcza
Sorry, can’t come to work today. I have a severe honesty infection - NewsMavens
Patient in bed being fed a bowl of broth, manuscript illust.

Why this story matters:

In Tuesday’s Gazeta Wyborcza, Agnieszka Urazińska published a hilarious list of excuses that Poles give to social security inspectors when they are caught cheating on their sick leave. It is such a common practice that the money collected from cheaters over the last six months has amounted to over 7 million PLN.

As silly as it is to go on sick leave and then dash off on a religious pilgrimage, to a different job, or on a shopping trip to pick out the location of your grave (all true stories), this happens all the time, in every sphere of society in Poland. Though the article doesn’t mention it, I have observed that a very common form of unwarranted sick leave taken by women upon discovering they are pregnant -- and yet still feel fit as a fiddle.

In order for this deception to work, it is, of course, necessary for a large number of doctors to collude with patients by handing out the official sick notes to people who are not actually in need of staying at home. Some have been caught selling them and brought to trial on corruption charges, but authorities have yet to figure out how to tackle a phenomena this widespread.

What I find most fascinating about this, is Polish people’s irrepressible glee at gaming the system.

Over the course of a complex history of domination, partition, and foreign occupation, Poland has evolved a species of European with an epigenetic distrust of governments and a genius for disobedience. The same way that generations of mice were discovered to pass fear to their offspring on a genetic level, Poles are programmed to resist, avoid and otherwise sidestep the rules. Unfortunately, even though Poles have been happily self governed since the fall of communism and are no longer resisting a foreign power, the habit remains.

There’s even a word for this attitude in Polish: kombinować. And it can sometimes be useful. Like when we fail or don’t have the right resources or are told that something is impossible, we kombinować our way to success anyway. Which makes us a bit like McGywer’s mischevious, less wholesome sister. The one who builds an escape pod out of kielbasa and a paperback and uses it to cut class without getting caught, while all the other kids schlep off to study. Wonder how she’ll turn out….

Details from the story:

  • Social security agents paid 265 000 visits to Poles on sick leave over the last six months.
  • In 10 000 cases, the sick leave was discovered to be false.
  • In some cases, severance pay was cancelled; in others a return of funds transferred was required.
  • Currently, about 7 million pln has been collected this way
  • Examples of what these Poles were found to be doing on sick leave include:
  • Participating in amateur sports events, unable to come to the door because “their mother had locked them in”, working a second job, and even working their normal job as hairstylist because “it’s my left hand that’s hurt, so I’m styling with my right”.


Project #Femfacts co-financed by European Commission Directorate-General for Communications Networks, Content and Technology as part of the Pilot Project – Media Literacy For All

The information and views set out on this website are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the official opinion of the European Union. Neither the European Union institutions and bodies nor any person acting on their behalf may be held responsible for the use which may be made of the information contained therein.

NewsMavens is a media start-up within Gazeta Wyborcza, Poland's largest liberal broadsheet published by Agora S.A. NewsMavens is currently financed by Gazeta Wyborcza and Google DNI Fund.
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