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Paid Sick Leave And Sick Leave Abuse

Posted by Leslie Ruhland on May 15, 2018 1:27:44 PM
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Calling in sick is a normal part of being an employee. Complying with current paid sick leave labor laws is a normal part of your HR management tasks. Unfortunately, so is dealing with sick leave abuse.


The passage of California's Healthy Workplace, Healthy Family Act of 2014 (AB 1522), or Paid Sick Leave law, has had a significant impact on both employers and employees in California. It has been a challenge, especially for many smaller employers, to implement all the required procedures, notice postings, forms, and compliance verification.

Not too surprisingly, some California employers are still working through their old sick leave policies and struggling to establish full compliance with the mandates of AB 1522.

Informing Employees of Paid Sick Leave Benefits

The burden of informing employees of the guidelines and benefits provided by the paid sick leave labor law is placed on the organization. For example, employers are required to display a poster in a conspicuous location at the workplace with the following information:

  • That an employee is entitled to accrue, request, and use paid sick days
  • The amount of sick days provided for and the terms of use of paid sick days
  • That retaliation or discrimination against an employee who requests paid sick days or uses paid sick days or both is prohibited
  • That an employee has the right under this law to file a complaint with the Labor Commissioner against an employer who retaliates or discriminates against an employee.

In addition, employers are required to provide most of their workers with an individualized Notice to Employee that includes relevant paid sick leave information. 

California employers and managers can find more information on the State of California's Department of Industrial Relations website FAQ page.

Dealing With Sick Leave Abuse

Another issue besides proper compliance is dealing with employee abuse of the new sick leave provisions. Sick leave abuse is a somewhat difficult issue for HR managers as sick leave is a required part of benefits that management must provide employees and their families.

But, a sick leave policy is vulnerable to abuse and this type of conduct can harm a business with unplanned costs.  In fact, a number of studies have shown that sick leave can cost companies between $200 to $650 per employee per year.

free california paid sick leave guide

Here are four steps to dealing with sick leave abuse:

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, it could be a management problem, morale issues, or disgruntled employees.

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 could include cash payouts at the end of the year, rolling part of unused sick time into flex time for the next year, extra days off with unused sick time hours, and extra vacation time for planned vacations.

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.

Attendance Policies and Paid-Sick-Leave Requirements

On their website's FAQ page, the Division of Labor Standards Enforcement (DLSE) addressed the question whether an employer can discipline a worker for taking a paid sick day or for using paid sick leave for part of a day to go to a doctor's appointment?

The DLSE’s response was as follows:

"In general, no, an employer may not discipline an employee for using accrued paid sick leave. Depending on the circumstances, however, the issue may be more complex and may require more analysis."

The paid sick leave law specifically says the following:

"An employer shall not deny an employee the right to use accrued sick days, discharge, threaten to discharge, demote, suspend, or in any manner discriminate against an employee for using accrued sick days, attempting to exercise the right to use accrued sick days, filing a complaint with the department or alleging a violation of this article, cooperating in an investigation or prosecution of an alleged violation of this article, or opposing any policy or practice or act that is prohibited by this article."

The DLSE concludes with this statement:

"This means, in general terms, that if an employee has accrued sick days available, an employer may not deny the employee the right to use those accrued paid sick days, including the right to use paid sick leave for a partial day (e.g., to attend a doctor's appointment), and may not discipline the employee for doing so."

Stay Informed and In Compliance

Maintaining an updated and compliant paid sick leave strategy and policy will help your organization meet its obligations, as well as provide accuracy and timeliness. Understanding the law, automating sick leave tracking and calculations, and prioritizing accurate record keeping will make compliance a sure thing.

Another key step in maintaining HR compliance and increasing your company's cost-effectiveness is to consider outsourcing. A professional agency such as Accuchex can provide much-needed help with Human Resources needs and questions.

Accuchex is a full spectrum Payroll Management Services provider offering expertise in Time Management, Insurance and Retirement issues, as well.

If you are looking for reliable resource for your HR issues, we can help. And you can get your Free Download: California Paid Sick Leave Law to help you make an informed decision, or call Accuchex Payroll Management Services at 877-422-2824.

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Topics: California Sick Leave Law, california paid sick leave law, sick leave abuse, california labor law, paid sick leave

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