What to do if your staff is overdoing it on the sick days

Documenting sick days and sick leaves

Suddenly, it becomes obvious: there are far too many empty chairs at the office. And it’s not a vacation scheduling issue either – these are unexpected absences, and they’re happening a lot.

If it’s an individual employee that’s away from the office a little too often, a conversation – and potentially a disciplinary procedure – might be required. But if it’s more of a company-wide occurrence, it could be a whole other issue altogether.

Here’s what to do if your staff is taking too many sick days.

Review your policies

Yes, this isn’t the first time we’ve made this suggestion. But going over the policies in place is a crucial first step in identifying any issue surrounding sick days or time off. What rules, if any, have you communicated to your team in the past? What precedents have been set?

Don’t just look at your sick leave policies, either. Look over your all your policies related to time off and schedules: vacation, lieu time, flexible arrangements, and so on. Look for contradicting rules or vague guidelines that might be confusing the team.

…and your legal duties

It’s also important to look at your legal requirements as an employer. Canada’s laws vary depending on the province – in Ontario, for example, current labour reforms might mean that employees are entitled to 10 sick days (two paid) without the need for a doctor’s note.

But generally, according to the Canada Labour Code, employers are required to allow employees to go on sick leave – but they don’t have to pay for it. Employees with a company for three consecutive months or more are entitled to up to 17 weeks of illness-related absence without the risk of dismissal, suspension, demotion, or discipline, as long as they can provide a doctor’s note with 15 days of returning to work.

As long as the employee continues to pay any benefit or insurance payments they usually pay, the employer must continue to offer them benefit. But the code does not stipulate that the sick leave must be paid.

Take a look at your management style

According to a 2014 study of over 7,300 middle-aged employees in Norway, workers who feel overworked, stressed, or micro-managed by their bosses are more likely to take an extended sick leave. “It seems to be the combination of being in a high-stress environment and having no control leads to long-term absences,” says lead author Samuel Harvey.

The answer, according to Harvey? Ease up on the micromanaging, and give your team more control. “Anything that gives people a sense of control and may help with the work life balance, allowing people to be involved in scheduling shifts, for example. Relatively simple things that employers can do that make a marked difference to the way people feel.”

…and your culture

While you’re reviewing your management style for any issues that might be causing problems, it’s also worthwhile to look more broadly at your work environment. After all, there are plenty of things that can cause your team to become disengaged, overworked, stressed, and – in turn – physically sick as a result.

Open-plan offices, for example, have been known to take a physical toll on teams. “Psychologically, the repercussions of open offices are relatively straightforward. Physical barriers have been closely linked to psychological privacy, and a sense of privacy boosts job performance,” says New Yorker writer Maria Konnikova. “Open offices also remove an element of control, which can lead to feelings of helplessness.”

Konnikova cites study after study exposing the detrimental impacts of the modern workplace. Most notable is a Danish study that found a significant correlation between absences due to sickness and open-plan offices.

Another thing to look at: snacks. Many offices entice top talent with the promise of free food, but what exactly is on offer? Are you filling your kitchen with chips, candy, and beer? If you’re doing a team lunch, where do you go? Is water readily available? If you’re giving your team a daily sugar crash, that can quickly translate into bigger health issues, and more sick days.

Focus on prevention

If you’re seeing a surge in sick days, it might be the perfect time to implement a wellness programs. Putting a focus on healthy eating, physical activity, anti-smoking initiatives can play a huge role in preventing unexpected absences due to illness – not to mention boosting productivity, employee engagement, and more.

See also:
The do’s and don’ts of workplace mental health initiatives
What employers need to know about marijuana in the workplace
Understanding small business health insurance
6 cool workplace wellness programs


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