Is Your Office Empty on Fridays? How to Deter Sick Leave Abuse

June 6, 2014
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With warm and sunny weather finally arriving to the East Coast, business owners and managers may notice that their offices seem a bit emptier on Fridays and Mondays. While most employees take vacation time to legitimately lengthen the weekend, some will attempt this through abuse of sick time instead. If you need proof, we invite you to check out a recent article in USA Today, which details the best and worst excuses for calling in sick. It offers pointers for bolstering believability, such as laying the groundwork for illness by coughing the day before a planned “sick day.” It also warns employees to stay away from social media to avoid inadvertently notifying their boss that they are at the beach and not home in bed. While the article is certainly humorous, sick time abuse and the resulting loss of productivity is not funny and can dramatically impact the bottom-line of your New York or New Jersey business. Therefore, it is imperative to take steps to curb abuse before it becomes a serious problem. Below are a few tips:
Adopt a Clear Sick Leave Policy:
Employers should reduce all sick leave policies to writing. Pertinent information to be specified should include how sick leave is accrued, the process for taking a sick day and under what circumstances a doctor’s note may be required to be provided. Assuming that sick time is separate from vacation and personal time, the policy should clearly state that sick days should only be used for legitimate medical reasons. It should also outline what steps may be taken if abuse occurs.
Keep Accurate Records:
Employers should keep track of all employee leave. Doing so can help detect patterns, such as frequent sick days on Fridays. Diligent recordkeeping also helps ensure that the proper documentation exists should employee discipline be required.
Monitor Employee Use of Sick Time:
Managers should be on the look out for excessive use of sick time and take steps to address it proactively. In some cases, employees may have a legitimate reason for missing work. In other cases, a simple conversation may rectify the abuse before it escalates.
Take Action to Deter Abuse:
Sick leave abuse should be addressed promptly, uniformly and fairly in accordance with the established policy. If abuse is overlooked, you send the message that it will be tolerated, and it could turn into a widespread problem. Finally, even with clear policies and managerial vigilance, fighting abuse is not simple. Sick leave policies designed to prevent abuse may conflict with the employer’s other legal obligations.  Consider Jersey City’s newly adopted sick leave ordinance which mandates the granting of up to 40 hours of paid sick time each year. The Jersey City ordinance provides that an employer cannot retaliate against an employee for taking sick leave, reporting a violation of the ordinance or engaging in other activities protected under the ordinance.  Challenges to the meaning of these restrictions will often be answered by a court or administrative agency. The complexity and potential danger of not complying with the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and similar state laws also makes curbing abuse more difficult. For these reasons, it is always advisable to consult with an experienced employment attorney to be sure that you are properly addressing a legitimate need to prevent fraud and abuse while still complying with the law. If you have any questions about sick leave abuse or would like to discuss your company’s employee policies and procedures, please contact me, Gary Young, or the Scarinci Hollenbeck Labor and Employment Law attorney with whom you work.