With cold and flu season being in full effect, many of us have had to take a few days off to rest up and beat the miserable symptoms that this time of year promises. Whether you fall ill yourself, have to take time off to take care of a sick child, or have to manage business operations while multiple employees are out with a stomach bug, the realities of this season can prove to be incredibly inconvenient in many aspects of our lives.

Despite the expectations for quality attendance, employees get sick and need to take time off to accelerate their recovery and avoid the potential spread of illness. However, many organizations suffer from the abuse of sick leave which can translate to a decrease in productivity and potential loss to the bottom line.

“Abuse” of sick leave typically refers to employees who, over a specific period of time, have violated the organization’s attendance policy on a number of occasions. Many sick leave policies include a reference to excessive absences, which can be defined as “more than three (3) absences in a 60-day period.” Let’s say you have an offender in your midst who seems to be catching that “bug that is going around” a few too many times. How do you ensure that your employees use their sick time appropriately, while at the same time avoid the abuse of the system?

Clearly define your policies. Make certain that your employees are aware of what these expectations are and are familiar with what the consequences are for not abiding by these rules. Keep the policy as flexible as possible; people do legitimately get sick and it is nearly impossible to track and list every potential offense. When working on your attendance policy, include specific examples of what would constitute a violation:

  • Excessive numbers of absences (i.e., reporting late for work, leaving work early, calling in sick for a full day, etc.);
  • Not using the standard reporting procedures;
  • Failing to give advance notice for an absence, when possible; and
  • Failing to provide medical certification for absences lasting more than three consecutive days.

If you have a clear policy in place, regularly communicate expectations and consequences with your employees. If you still have issues with employees abusing the system, document everything (particularly in cases when there are multiple unreasonable requests for absences), learn when to say no and require adherence to your attendance policy, and try to determine the root cause for the sick leave abuse.

Recognizing the problem before it escalates is vitally important. Preventing the problem is even more important. Through clearly defined policies and regular communication, you can do your part in ensuring that your employees do not abuse your sick leave system, and that this cold and flu season is properly managed and does not negatively affect your business.

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