8 Options to Avoid the Consequences of Sick Leave Requests

Mondays account for more than a third of all absences. Nothing beats a long weekend! There are even internet sites that have suggestions on how to “safely” call in sick. In this difficult economy, absenteeism is down but many organizations are working on tighter budgets where there is less room for unnecessary overtime incurred when employees call in sick at the last moment. It is therefore critical to be prepared for absences and have systems in place to mitigate and control the effects.

In all organizations, absenteeism causes a loss of productivity. In occasions such as human service providers or security where attendance is mandatory, additional payroll costs may be incurred in the form of overtime.

However effective policies and procedures can make a difference. There is often a significant difference between absentee levels in some organizations as compared with others. This clearly demonstrates that what we do as employers makes a difference.

  1. If your employees are entitled to sick pay, offer to pay employees for unused sick days. This can be less costly than paying another employee to work overtime. If your organization predominately consists of full-time employees with few part time reliefs, overtime can often result from absenteeism.
  1. Include any sick time in a general PTO (paid time off) balance. Avoid segregating vacation, sick and personal time. Use one bucket called PTO. This is easier to track. Employees can still call in sick, but they will be using a regular PTO day. This encourages employees to structure their time off, avoid unplanned days off that can cause another employee to work overtime.
  1. Allow employees to carry over sick or PTO days. This discourages employees from approaching sick or PTO days with a “use it or lose it attitude. This also gives the employee a larger bank to use in the event of a genuine, serious illness.
  1. Require employees to accrue sick days as with vacation or PTO. This will discourage new hires from taking unnecessary sick days and only makes them available as earned during the year. Avoid awarding sick days at the start of the year.
  1. The most draconian measure is not pay for sick time. Only Connecticut requires sick time. An alternative is not to pay for sick time without a doctor’s note.
  1. Establish a larger bank of trained, part-time employees who are willing to pick up extra hours without incurring overtime.
  1. Use a time and attendance system to track absences and interview frequent offenders. Often unnecessary absenteeism is caused by a handful of “rotten apples”. Unless there is a reliable system in place to track absenteeism, a few employees poor behavior will negatively impact other employees. The same excuse may have been used the previous month. The threat of an interview will often deter casual absenteeism. Absentee tracking can then be connected with other human resources actions such as written warnings or even termination.
  1. Even if all the above steps are taken, employees will still call in sick legitimately or otherwise. This results in two costs. Firstly productivity costs as managers take time to fill the position or cover it themselves. Secondly if a replacement is found, that employee may go into overtime costing 50% more. Use a scheduling system to quickly identify available, qualified employees who might not go into overtime. This will save manager or scheduler’s time and minimize the payroll consequence to the organization. Some overtime is inevitable. However an effective scheduling solution will keep it at a manageable level.