“Cough…Cough… I’m Sick” – But Are They Really?

sickWhether its because the weather is just awful outside and they don’t want to leave the house, they are feeling stressed from the job and tell themselves they need a “mental health day” or they truly have personal issues that need to be taken care of but are afraid to reveal to you, absenteeism in the workplace is one of the most disruptive issues managers have to face.
Come down too hard on the employees and the company is viewed as “cold and uncaring.”  Be too lenient and now you run the risk of these “fake” sick days coming up at the most inopportune time.
It is estimated that an absent employee costs an organization 1.75 to 2.5 times his or her daily salary. And about two-thirds of those employees who call in sick at the last minute aren’t really sick. Instead, they’re skipping work to deal with personal or family issues.  If you work in an area that has seasonal peaks in production or sales, this can really throw a wrench into the mix.
But how can you combat the last minute, no-show problem?
Most successful absenteeism programs are grounded in three basic elements: 
1) a clear company policy, 
2) careful documentation of absences and their reasons, and 
3) consistent application/enforcement of that policy.  
I want to put special emphasis on that last element because that is the one the gets most managers in trouble.  The only way to be successful is to apply this (and all other policies) fairly and uniformly.  If you start create “special circumstances” based on an employee’s request, you will now find your other employees wanting the same treatment and expecting their own special circumstances.  Before long – your “absenteeism policy” might as well be thrown out the window!
Your Employees need know the rules they need to follow – especially: how much notice is required, who and how they are to communicate their need for time off to (i.e. Need to notify their immediate supervisor by phone, text or email and NOT just leave a message with a fellow co-worker), and how many days “sick’ before that employee has to bring in a doctor’s note to show they are healthy to return to work without restrictions.
Your Supervisors need know how to handle those who break the rules.  As the HR professional, you need to instruct them on how to document these absences and their reasons….and WHY they need to document them.  Explain to them that when it comes to the point where they want to write up an employee for “excessive absenteeism,” this is the documentation they need to include in order to prove their case…not just a “they take a lot of days off.”  This also is a talking point to bring up during performance appraisals, especially when the employee is trying to negotiate a higher raise…its an area of responsibility that they can control – and they need to be reminded of that.
However – if you begin to notice a pattern of absenteeism, don’t ignore it or simply write it up.  Remember: not every employee will share their personal reasons even with the co-worker they trust the most and it is your job as the HR professional to take notice of these “signs” that there may be more going on and then counsel them to try to find out.  An employee should never feel fearful of honestly telling their employer why they need time off.  All companies over 50 employees, as well as many smaller businesses, have “Leave” policies whether it be FMLA or simply Personal Leave.  Many employees, especially in this market, are so afraid to ask for leave for fear of loosing their job – and sadly, many managers will use this fear to their advantage.  Protect your company and the employee by getting involved to determine the root cause of the situation and educating both sides on what can and can’t be done.  This way – the leave can be planned and work schedules adjusted to accommodate without disrupting production or sales like a last minute call-off would do.
Absenteeism can be controlled…set the rules, enforce them and keep open communication with your employees…and watch things turn around.
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