The Most (Inconvenient) Time of the Year!

The Most (Inconvenient) Time of the Year!

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.

Hot Button Employee Issue #1: The Absent Employee

Over the past year, Michaela has taken 12 weeks of job-protected maternity leave, 2 weeks of personal leave to care for a sick child, and has just requested a leave of absence for herself to undergo wrist surgery. These larger chunks of leave do not include a day or two of sick time here and there, or the need to stay home or leave work early in the event of an emergency or unexpected event. While she has been predominantly able to cover her leaves with accrued vacation and sick leave, Michaela’s continued absences occasionally causes her to fall behind in work, resulting in her coworkers having to pick up the slack.

An issue that negatively impacts small business owners in particular, absent employees (regardless of whether or not the leave is job-protected) has the potential to disrupt business operations and productivity. While there are many situations that are incredibly unfortunate and outside the employee’s control (such as needing to care for a sick child), a balance between taking care of your employees and ensuring business needs are met has to be a top priority.

Flexible Schedules/Telecommuting – Depending on the situation and the industry, many employees can work from home when they are recovering or temporarily disabled (e.g., a reduced/flexible work schedule). For example, a part-time work from home schedule may be an ideal balance to ensure tasks are completed while providing your employee with the opportunity to take care of themselves or a family member.

Sharing Duties and Workload – Talk with your staff and other members of the department and see if they are able to take on some of the duties while your employee is absent. Having a strong, supportive team at work often means they are willing to step up and help when needed.

Reiterate Expectations – In any instance of excessive time off, regardless the need or reason, it is important to communicate and reiterate company policy. Making certain that your employees are aware of what is expected of them helps hold them accountable and ensures that your generosity is not taken advantage of.

Especially in situations when a key or high performing employee is met with a situation that requires them to take a leave of absence (or multiple), working with them and other members of your team can ensure that business operations are maintained and don’t spiral out of control. Employees are often more than happy to reach a happy medium with you, and your commitment to working with them will in turn ensure loyal, long-term relationships.

Follow along the rest of the month as we discuss two other hot-button issues employers are faced with and present mutually beneficial solutions to those problems.

Calling in Sick

Cindy was recently promoted to department manager and today was the final push on a huge project for her team.  Though her department only had 5 employees, she was looking forward to finalizing this project and showing the VP what she and her team could do.  Shortly after getting into the office she received a text message from Amy notifying Cindy that she couldn’t make it into the office today due to a cold.  Cindy’s heart sank, she was relying on Amy to help finish up this major project.

As a manager, have you come across this situation?  What have you done when a critical employee calls in sick right when you need them the most?  For many managers, a tangle of emotions and scenarios start playing in your head.  Emotions from feeling betrayed and angry to scenarios where you start believing your employee is a slacker and faking sick.

Cindy finished the project but only by working late into the night.  The next day Amy came into the office all bright and cheerful with no signs of being sick.  Cindy still frustrated at Amy for missing an important day at the office ignored Amy all morning.  After lunch Amy poked her head into Cindy’s office to check in, Cindy just glared at her and angrily stated, “How could you not be here yesterday when I needed you the most?”

Almost every day managers have to step up and take the high road.  We have to make sure we are not making assumptions or taking things personally.  As in the case of Cindy, she took Amy’s absence very personally and started thinking of Amy as a troubled employee.  You can be sure that next time Amy calls in sick, Cindy is going to be even more upset.

If you are dealing with an employee calling in sick on an important day or has a history of calling in sick, take a step back and try to look at it from a rational point of view.  Before addressing a potential absent employee problem, ensure you have the complete picture.  Review how much unscheduled time off they have taken over the last few months; is it really out of the ordinary or is your perception warped by your feelings?  With flu and cold season coming, you also have to consider cutting down on the spread of illness by not allowing sick employees in the office.

Even if you believe an employee is abusing the sick leave policy, seek advice prior to taking any action (including talking with the employee).  When dealing with an employee taking a lot of sick leave, take care you do not to violate any legal rights the employee has, and ensure you are viewing the situation objectively.

Oregon Sick Leave Law

On January 1, 2016, Oregon’s mandatory paid sick leave law will take effect. Nearly all employers with workers in Oregon will be affected by this new law in some capacity. How will these new regulations affect you and your organization? Here is a brief overview of the upcoming changes: (more…)

Nuts-and-Bolts: Managing the Cold and Flu Season

Fall is slowing creeping in on us. With the cooler weather comes crunchy leaves, pumpkin spice lattes, and of course, cold and flu season. Sick leave (or PTO) is a valued benefit for employees. 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. (more…)