Working with Sick Leave

“I continue to be confused about all the things I can’t control when someone is sick. Are there better ways to deal with sick leave?”

Your HR Survival Tip

California first implemented the state paid sick leave law in 2015. Since then, at least 30 local laws have also been passed and implemented. While most people are in agreement that employees should receive some paid sick leave, the way most of these laws were written has made life difficult for employers.

The laws allow employees to take advantage of the time off but prevent the employer from fully managing their workforce. Over the years we have heard from companies facing abuse of sick leave by their employees… with no way to stop it. There are protections for the employee provided in these laws but you can try a few things to maintain more control.

Although we can’t require employees to call in sick prior to their start time, you can request it. Typically, in a policy, this would be “please contact your supervisor at least 30 minutes prior to your start time or as soon as practicable.” The law actually uses “as soon as practicable” as the notice but most people don’t quite understand what they mean so it may help to also express what you’d like to have employees do.

The laws prohibit you from requiring a medical note from the employee unless (a) the employee has been out for 3 consecutive days or (b) the employee has used all their allowed sick leave for the year. If someone is out for a couple of days, you want to get in touch with them to find out if they will be returning to work soon or if their absence is cause for Leave of Absence paperwork. If the employee tells you they’ll be back to work on day 3, you’re done. If the employee says they will also be taking off day 3 but expect to be better and at work on day 4, this is the time to let them know you’ll need a doctor’s note to ensure the 3 days are an excused absence qualified for sick pay. If they return to work on day 4 without the doctor’s note, give them until the end of day 4 to contact the doctor’s office and get a note sent to you.

Once the employee has used all their allowed sick leave for the year, each subsequent absence can be counted against attendance. You may also request a doctor’s note for any future sick days that year. Be careful when you ask for a doctor’s note at this point to ensure you aren’t being discriminatory and it looks like you’re picking on one employee. Even with a doctor’s note, they are no longer protected by the sick leave laws and too many absences could now result in disciplinary action. Hopefully you already have a policy that defines excessive absenteeism for your company.

The sick leave laws require employees to notify you in advance of the need for sick time off for appointments. Make it clear you expect to be notified as soon as they make the appointment, not the day of the appointment. Some businesses cannot have an employee working only a partial day due to the type of job the employee has. For example, if a delivery person is responsible for completing a route that day, going to an appointment in the middle of their route is not really feasible. You can request employees make appointments for days off or outside of work hours. This may not always be possible but you can try. An incentive might help, such as still paying two hours of sick pay when they schedule that appointment on a day off. This way they still receive their sick pay and you don’t have a broken shift. Another possibility is to rearrange the employee’s shift that week so the time off is less disruptive. Perhaps having other work the employee could do that day is another option.

When you have field or remote employees, you really need to review their locations. Employment laws are valid based on where the employee is working. If you have employees working remotely, you need to confirm their home location isn’t subject to a local sick leave ordinance that requires more or different handling of their sick leave. If remote employees work outside California, you also need to be aware of the sick leave laws in those states.

Paid sick leave isn’t going away. If anything, we are seeing more time off laws that intersect each other, such as leaves of absence. Even the smallest companies are now subject to these laws so it’s time to figure out what you can do to keep your business flowing while managing the time off.

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