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4 Tips for Preventing Sick Leave Abuse

written by: Tess C. Taylor, HR Expert•edited by: Jean Scheid•updated: 6/30/2011

If you own a company or are the head of the HR department, then you understand how costly employee absences due to illness can be. This article provides four tips for getting to the bottom of and preventing sick leave abuse.

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    sick time For human resources managers, knowing how to prevent sick leave abuse can help to increase employee morale and cut down on lost revenues and productivity in the workplace. Paid sick leave is a benefit that most employees enjoy, but are not actually entitled to under present labor laws (refer to the Family and Medical Leave Act). The time can range from three to as much as ten days off for an excused illness or to care for a sick family member.

    However, sometimes employees start abusing this benefit by calling in sick too frequently or exceeding the allowable days off work per annual period. When this occurs, the HR department must deal with “offenders" in a consistent and swift manner to avoid a whole range of other problems, which stem from this behavior. Fortunately, there are some helpful tips for preventing sick leave abuse, and maintaining business standards through a well-written sick leave policy that addresses this issue head on.

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    Tip 1: Develop a Clear Sick Leave Policy

    In order to prevent cases of sick leave abuse from ever occurring, it’s important to anticipate this may happen when drafting a written corporate sick leave policy. Your policy should state that there are a certain amount of approved sick days allowed per employee per year. Additionally, the sick leave policy should give clear instructions for how to be approved for sick time, such as how and when to call in, as well as when a medical excuse from a doctor is required. The sick policy should also state that under no uncertain terms may an employee be allowed to use sick time as personal time, such as asking to use sick time for planned absences. Also, the policy should state what steps will be taken if an employee is suspected of abusing this policy.

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    Tip 2: Get to the Bottom of Employee Sick Incidence Abuse

    Before automatically assuming that employees are abusing sick leave out of sheer maliciousness, consider that there may be good reasons why employees are calling out sick a lot. Oftentimes, employees who call out sick on a more frequent then normal basis are doing so due to underlying issues, which are causing them personal distress. These issues can be caused by workplace stress, problems with other staff or management, or mental illness such as depression or addiction. It is important to check with the supervisor of these employees to get to the root of the problem. If there are numerous employees abusing the system, then low employee morale may be to blame. This also needs prompt attention as it can affect the entire organization quickly.

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    Tip 3: Have a Fair System for Tracking All Time Off

    The best way to spot trouble when it comes to sick time abuse, is to have a solid system in place for tracking time off for all employees. Over time, some patterns may appear with certain employees or groups of employees. These patterns can include always calling out sick on a Monday following the weekend (possible hang-over?) or employees who consistently call out during approved vacation or holiday time off (family conflicts?). It is up to supervisors to spot these patterns and alert human resources to this issue, so that the proper steps can be taken to address this with the offending employees. In some cases, an entire team of employees may have developed a pattern of abusing sick time and this must also be dealt with in a constructive manner. Just be sure that any tracking system used is fair to all employees and does not discriminate against anyone based on their tenure, national status, gender, age, race, or religious practices.

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    Tip 4: Deal with Offenders Quickly with Consequences

    The best tip to prevent sick leave abuse is to take the time to address this personally with employees who have exceeded their allotted days off. It’s often a good idea to ask the employee’s manager to have a sit down with the employee to find out why the employee has taken so much time off. There may be a good reason for this, which can result in changes to the employee’s job duties, changes to the actual work schedule, or retraining for the employee so that he or she can perform the duties of the job more productively.

    In teams, oftentimes a group building exercise can help to raise morale, but a review of the sick leave policy should be brought up to reinforce the policy. For repeat offenders, there must be consequences for abusing the sick leave policy, which can include disciplinary actions such as suspension without pay, or even termination if the behavior continues. While it is difficult to confront employees who abuse sick leave policies, there must be an example set so that other employees don’t follow suit.

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    Sources and Photo Credit

    Sources:

    "Developing Vacation and Sick Leave Policies", AllBusiness, retrieved on June 14, 2011 from http://smallbusiness.yahoo.com/r-article-a-1283-m-5-sc-50-developing_vacation_and_sick_leave_policies-i

    Smith, Maureen," Sick Leave Abuse: A Chronic Workplace Ill?", About.com, retrieved on June 14, 2011 from http://humanresources.about.com/od/laborrelations/a/sickleaveabuse.htm

    Photo Credit: http://www.morguefile.com/archive/display/9473