Employers provide sick leave for good reasons. Employees appreciate being able to practice good self-care while not losing income. When workers with a cold or a flu stay home, they don’t spread contagion in the workplace.
But sometimes you have reason to believe that your sick leave benefit is getting abused. It seems some people are out sick a disproportionate amount compared to coworkers. Or you notice a pattern in their absences. Then there’s the employee whose request for a night off is refused and later calls in sick that very day.
Here’s a menu of strategies that might help reduce the problem of excessive absenteeism.
- Track the problem. Gather statistics by department, by shift, by day of the week and by individual. With numbers in hand, you’ll have something concrete to share with the staff to justify actions you choose to take. You can target your efforts to the areas where absenteeism is most problematical. And you’ll be able to objectively evaluate the success of your efforts.
- Consider lumping vacation, sick leave and paid holidays into Paid Time Off (PTO). Many employees feel they’re entitled to their sick leave. When they don’t have to lie in order to get what they feel is due them, they’re more likely to take their PTO as “vacation,” pre-planned.
- Counsel individuals who frequently call in sick, letting them know that their non-attendance is causing problems for the work group. While an employee is entitled to take all the sick leave you grant, it’s fair for supervisors to give warnings for patterns of absences or suspicious occurrences.
- When employees call in sick, require them to talk in person with their supervisor or the manager on duty, and not simply leave messages with coworkers. Request them to call back later in the day to report on the state of their health and the likelihood of working their next scheduled shift.
- Try a bonus program for good attendance. Set a standard for attendance that would improve on the current staff average, and reward those who exceed the standard. The reward could be a cash bonus or extra paid time off. Consider rewarding work groups, (departments or shifts) rather than individuals, based on the group’s attendance record. That might get peer pressure working for you.
- Some retailers require people to find their own replacements when they call in sick. Before taking such a draconian measure, educate staff about the extent of the absenteeism problem and its impacts on other coworkers. Try a voluntary approach first, with the understanding that you’ll go to a policy of requiring finding their own replacements if high rates of absenteeism continue.
- Promote wellness! Ask brokers and manufacturers’ reps to give presentations on products that strengthen immune systems and prevent illness. Offer employee discounts on wellness products.
Maybe not all of these strategies suit your business but some of them will. Absenteeism isn’t a force of nature like the weather. It’s something an employer can control.