Poor Gloria. She had a horrible case of the flu and spent Friday and Monday in bed – or so she said when she called in sick. But, not according to her coworker John, who says he saw pictures on Facebook of Gloria with a group of women on Friday celebrating and preparing for a friend’s wedding.
What is an employer to do?
The most important thing is to not jump to conclusions. Gather the facts – not rumors or sneaky suspicions.
Start with your time-keeping records
Your time management report can show patterns of absenteeism. Does Gloria tend to take sick leave on Fridays, Mondays or days surrounding holidays?
If this is a pattern of behavior, it definitely needs to be addressed. But, even if it is a one-time occurrence, you still need to talk to the employee.
What does your absenteeism policy say?
Has Gloria followed notification procedures? Well-written policies will require employees to call their supervisor by a certain time of day. The policy should be clear about with whom, when and how to make contact. Is a text or email acceptable? Or does it have to be a phone call and speaking directly to the supervisor?
This policy also can include when or if a doctor’s note is required. Because the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) requires a doctor’s note after three consecutive days, many companies use the three-day guideline for sick days.
Check your paid time off policy
Has Gloria exhausted all of her paid time off and is looking for a way to attend her friend’s bachelorette party? Companies with PTO policies that separate sick time from vacation time may encourage the use of paid sick time when employees aren’t sick. There is a perception that they are “due” those days. If the policy allows 10 days, they expect to get 10 days, no matter what.
On the other hand, a general PTO policy that encompasses both sick time and vacation time rewards employees who don’t have frequent illnesses and discourages people from taking sick days off when they’re not sick.
However, you need to know your city and state laws governing paid sick time. Some cities have sick-leave requirements, where companies must provide a certain number of days of paid sick leave. Some states, such as California, allow employees to use half of their paid sick leave to care for a spouse, domestic partner, child or child of domestic partner. Other states say you must allow time to care for a sick child or even time to take your well child to a doctor for routine care such as vaccines. These requirements go beyond what the federal FMLA provides.
Take a look at the employee’s history
Have they been dishonest in other areas? Do they have other performance problems? Or is this the first time you’ve had to reprimand them? How you handle it will depend on your company’s discipline policy.
Review your company’s progressive discipline policy
This outlines how your organization handles these situations and the progression of discipline, typically starting with a verbal warning, moving on to a written warning, possibly to suspension and then termination. This should be part of your company handbook and is meant to give guidelines and help you be consistent.
It’s time for a chat
Part of gathering facts includes talking to the employee. You have to address the issue. By ignoring it, you are condoning the behavior. It also can impact team morale, work performance and productivity.
Other workers may see it as affecting how much work they have to absorb when someone is out or that they see the employee as “getting away” with not following company policy. Habitual absences may cause a company to fall below its production or performance goals. Share how an absence affects these pieces of the business.
Let the employee know you’ve noticed the absences. This is an opportunity to set attendance expectations. But, it also gives you a chance to ask questions.
“Is there anything I need to know about? Anything you need from me?” You can ask if they expect this to be an ongoing issue.
Maybe you’re not aware of an underlying condition. Maybe the employee needs a schedule adjustment or accommodation based on the Americans with Disabilities Act. Don’t assume you know all the facts until you have talked with the employee.
In Gloria’s case, it might be awkward, but the conversation has to happen. Your opening line might be: “I want you to know that someone saw pictures on Facebook of you out with friends on Friday. You called in sick. What can you tell me about this?”
Explain the impact on the rest of the team: “Not being here affects the team in these ways ….”
If this is a one-time issue, it will likely end with a verbal counseling session, with the manager making note of the discussion. If it’s an ongoing issue, it may advance to a written warning. The key is to have a progressive discipline policy in place and be consistent.
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