Sick leave abuse is a sensitive subject in the management field. Sick leave is a necessary part of any professional company because it shows that management cares about employees and their families. However, any sick leave program is vulnerable to abuse and that can harm the company with lower morale and unplanned costs. Several studies conducted by independent organizations have established that sick leave can cost a company between $200 to $650 per employee per year.
The way to address this issue is to have:
- an unambiguous written sick leave policy
- self examination of your company
- incentives to prevent sick leave abuse
- communicate with the involved employee
Have a written policy
Implement a written sick leave policy that fully explains what kinds of situations are appropriate for calling in sick. Of course, not every instance of sick leave abuse can be addressed so keep the policy flexible but be firm and fair in the administration. Establish how much time the company gives for sick leave, the procedure for calling in sick, and clearly state what the consequences may be for chronic sickness. If employees might be written up for misusing sick time, passed over for promotion, or terminated from employment it should all be explained in your policy.
Look at all factors that may cause abuse
Keep an eye out for all of the actors involved in possible abuse. Make note of the employee, when he calls in sick, who his supervisor is, his work history, does he only call in sick around holidays or weekends, etc. See if there have been any changes in his department, perhaps new tasks or an unusual work load, or maybe a new supervisor. Examine if there are other employees also excessively calling in sick, there might be a management problem, morale issue, or a bad apple employee.
Consider or increase incentives
In addition to the disciplinary action taken against people who abuse sick leave consider establishing an incentive program. Many employees believe sick time is a benefit that they lose if they don't use it. So a "use it or lose it" mentality begins. This can be used in your favor by having incentive programs that let employees use a portion of their unused sick time towards incentives. Some of these incentives include:
- cash payouts at the end of the year
- rolling part of unused sick time into flex time for use the next year
- bonus days off based on unused sick time hours
- extra vacation time for planned vacations
- recognition and favorable documentation in personnel records
- awards or gifts that are meaningful
Speak with the employee
Confronting an employee about the abuse of sick leave isn't easy. Begin the conversation with an open mind and be honest about your concerns. It's good to have another manager or supervisor with you but not one that the employee works for directly. The cause of the excessive time off may be a managerial issue and the employee may feel intimidated. Also, be sensitive to privacy when asking about illnesses of the employee or family. The employee doesn't have to disclose everything. Remind the employee of the benefits of not using sick leave and even appeal to their loyalty and explain how abuse harms co-workers as well as the company.
Sick leave abuse policies can be complex so if you need help in implementing one, re-examining an existing plan, or ideas about how to combat abuse consult a trained HR consultant. A knowledgeable consultant will be current on the law and have fresh ideas about how to improve or implement changes.