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How to Address Sick Leave Abuse

It’s summertime, and that means an influx of employees calling in sick on Mondays and Fridays when they’re really not sick.   Summertime sick time is one example of sick leave abuse, which often translates into administrative headaches and lost dollars for employers.

How can an employer remedy sick leave abuse, whether it’s during the summer or throughout the rest of the year?

While it’s important to make sure your organization has a lawful policy and procedure to address sick leave abuse, in many cases, remedying sick leave abuse requires more than simply enforcing a HR policy.  Here we offer some additional tips.

Determine if Abuse Really Exists, and Then Home in on the Problem

The first step is to determine if sick leave abuse really exists by tracking and evaluating absences, including late arrivals and early departures, possibly in conjunction with an employee survey.  Do any trends reveal themselves – such as a higher absenteeism rate in a particular department or under a particular supervisor?

The goal here is to find out why employees are really taking off from work under the guise of being sick.  In some cases, employees may need more flexibility or more time off, but in some cases, a department or team may really be burnt out or suffering from low morale because of a problem supervisor.

Craft Solutions to Address Core Issues

Once you’ve identified the root of any sick leave abuse problems, any solutions you consider implementing should address the core issues.

For example, if you find that only workers with limited child care options are taking extra sick leave, the appropriate solution may be to implement an emergency child care or on-site child care program, rather than modify your organization’s sick leave policy.

Or, you may discover that workers generally need more flexibility with their time off from work, in which case, use of a single paid time off (PTO) bank – instead of segregated sick, personal and vacation days – may be the appropriate solution.  A single PTO bank allows employees more flexibility in how they use their time off, resulting in fewer unplanned absences.

Or, it may turn out that you simply have one problem employee on your hands, in which case, counseling or disciplinary action may be the way to go, provided it’s lawful.

These are only three examples of how sick leave abuse can be managed, but they illustrate that, as is often the case with workplace issues, the solutions are as varied as the source of the problem and usually require a facts-and-circumstances inquiry.  If you have a sick leave abuse problem in your workplace that you would like to address, you may want to consult with an employment attorney.