Guarding Against Abuse
Let’s look at how this second approach works. First off, employers shouldn’t get too fussed when an employee is ill for a day; that’s not a pattern. Just make sure all employees notify their manager as soon as they know they can’t make it to work and provide a subsequent update every day that they’re away until they return. Generally, these incidental absences resolve on their own quite quickly because they are just that: incidental. We all get colds.
But if a pattern of absences develops -- more frequent, regular, or excessive than other employees -- then the manager needs to find out why. That’s when a doctor’s note should be requested. This isn’t just proof of illness, though, it’s also proof of treatment. If an employee has excessive absences, make sure they're getting the medical attention they need. You aren’t entitled and don’t need to know anything about the medical reasons, just that the doctor recommends that the employee stay home, is providing care, and can estimate the employee’s return date. If it’s malingering, there won’t be a note of course.
When even excessive absences are truly incidental, you should expect that the situation will resolve fairly quickly after it gets the manager’s attention. However, if the employee’s incidental absences don’t show a prompt, sharp, and sustained reduction -- that is, if they aren't taking sufficient care to be available for work -- then the next step isn’t to stop paying the employee for any additional absences, it’s to stop paying the employee altogether.
If excessive incidental absenteeism persists, then the company should conclude that this particular employee simply doesn’t have what it takes to be available for work and employment should end. Companies shouldn’t be focusing their scarce management time on employees who can’t meet the minimum expectations of simple attendance. Good judgment is required here to determine when the limits have been reached and when the outlook for improvement is poor. (And each province or state will likely have its own standards or steps to follow in order to terminate employment for lack of availability for work.) But once these have been met without significant improvement, it’s time to part company with the employee in accordance with their employment agreement.
Secondly, if the absence turns out not to be incidental and is more serious, the absence policy will now provide much needed economic protection to the genuinely ill employee, until such time as the short-term disability program takes over, if necessary. Again, that’s the safety cap for the all-paid absences approach.
With this approach, your employees now don’t need to worry about the economic hardships imposed by bad luck with their health. They and their families are covered by a thoughtful employer’s policies. Instead, they can focus on your customers and making your business even better. That’s a great addition to your company culture.
This approach also solves a couple problems that an annual limit can’t. First it helps identify malingerers and proactively removes them from the workforce, setting the cultural tone about expectations for coming to work. Second, the number of incidental absences will, on average, drop as malingers are managed out, reducing costs and the disruption to productivity from unscheduled absences. It’s a win-win for employees and employers.
There will be those employers for whom paid sick days, using either method, are simply too expensive for their business. It’s difficult to challenge that assertion since we have no way to assess their business model. We can only hope that there will be relief available for these employees and companies through government programs that provide some measure of economic assistance to those who need it most right now.
But if you’re a business leader who thinks you can’t trust your employees to come to work without a draconian sick leave policy, that they’re more like truculent high school students than responsible adults, then perhaps you might want to review your recruiting standards. There are better employees out there.
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