Thursday, October 28, 2010

Best remedy for sick day abuse is a clear policy

In a 2006 episode of The Office, Dwight goes undercover to spy on co-worker Oscar when he suspects sick day abuse. He discovers that Oscar was using his sick day to ice skate. He also nearly discovers Oscar’s closeted homosexuality. I bring this up because, yesterday, published its annual list of the most unusual excuses for calling in sick.

The nationwide survey of more than 2,400 employers uncovered that 16% of businesses have fired a worker for missing work without a proven excuse. 29% of employers reported checking up on an employee who called in sick. Of those employers:

  • 70% required a doctor’s note
  • 50% called the employee at home
  • 18% had another worker call the employee
  • 15% (including Dwight Schrute) drove by the employee’s home

Of the more creative (or intriguing, depending on your perspective) excuses given by employees:

  • A chicken attacking an employee’s mom
  • A finger stuck in bowling ball
  • A foot stuck in a garbage disposal
  • One employee even called in sick from a bar at 5 p.m. the prior night.

I suggest that you call a sick day a sick day, and if you want to allow employees to use days off for “mental health days,” call your time off Paid Time Off, and not Sick Leave.

The best way to curb sick day abuses is to clearly spell your business’s expectation in a sick leave policy. What are the legitimate reasons for using a sick day? When is a doctor’s note required? What level of specificity is required? And, most importantly, what are the consequences if an employee is discovered lying about sick leave? According to CareerBuilder’s survey, 60% of employers allow employees to use sick day for mental health days. You may not think an employee’s “mental health day” is that big of a deal. You will reconsider, however, when you face a discrimination lawsuit from an employee terminated for dishonesty and you have to explain when you did not discipline a white employee who lied about his sick days.

Presented by Kohrman Jackson & Krantz, with offices in Cleveland and Columbus. For more information, contact Jon Hyman, a partner in our Labor & Employment group, at (216) 736-7226 or