Always Out: What To Do When An Employee Keeps Calling In Sick

Nate Hindman

Employees say the darndest things when they call in sick. “My toe is stuck in a faucet” and “Someone glued my windows and doors shut” were among the least believable sick-day excuses heard by company managers polled in a recent survey by CareerBuilder.

One in 7 women have called into work and lied about being sick, the survey found. The number for men is 1 in 5 (what’s going on guys?)

And while it’s not uncommon for employees to occasionally call in sick when they’re actually fine, most every small business has one or two sick-day abusers. Here’s what to do about employees who call in “sick” too often:

Merge “Sick” Days With “Vacation” Days

In an attempt to curb sick-day abuse, a growing number of companies now allot employees a specified number of paid days off for any purpose — that is, both sick time and vacation time are considered the same thing and consolidated into one paid leave package. This is typically called Paid Time Off, or PTO for short.

By doing so, employers effectively reward employees who don’t have frequent illnesses and discourage employees from taking sick days off when they’re not actually sick.

With such a policy in place, sick-day abusers may think twice before calling in because the absences cut into what could be their vacation.

Do Away With Voice Mails

Some employees are more likely to abuse sick time if they don’t have to speak with a supervisor and can simply get out of work by firing off an email or leaving a groggy-toned voice mail.

With this being the case, employers should require workers, especially those whose attendance record is sub-par, to speak directly to an immediate supervisor when they call in sick. No voicemail, no text, they must speak to someone.

Relax Your Policies

This one is a little counter-intuitive. But it’s possible that your strict sick-leave policy is actually having the reverse effect and causing employees to skip out on work instead of preventing unscheduled absenteeism.

Studies show the majority of workers who call in sick at the last minute do so for reasons other than physical illness, citing personal needs and stress as chief reasons for taking time off.

Workplace flexibility, on the other hand, has been shown to reduce worker stress. In other words, giving employees more freedom, so long as their share of work gets completed, makes staff more appreciative of the company and less likely to take advantage of paid leave policies.

Time To Talk

Okay you’ve merged sick time with vacation time, done away with voice mails and boosted morale by increasing workplace flexibility, but there are still sick-day abusers at the company. Now it’s time to take them aside for a sit-down and let them know that you’ve noticed the days off.

Emily Dusablon, an advisor at Insperity, a provider of HR services, suggests asking employees whether there’s any reason in particular that is causing the absences.

“Maybe you’re not aware of an underlying condition,” Dusablon says. “Maybe the employee needs a schedule adjustment or accommodation based on the Americans with Disabilities Act. Don’t assume you know all the facts until you have talked with the employee.”

Know The Law

If, after a sit-down, the absenteeism persists, and you choose to take action, it’s necessary to first consider the laws associated with paid sick leave.

For instance, under the Family and Medical Leave Act, certain employers are required to offer their employees leave to care for themselves or sick family members.

Determining if an employee’s circumstances qualify them for such legal protections, or if employers are on the hook for paying them during such times, is typically where things get sticky. In most cases, the safest bet is to consult an attorney before withholding pay or firing an excessively absent employee.

Next Steps:  Imagine a world where your employees show up on time, work smart and deliver results for your small business day in and day out. Not there yet? Sign up for the weekly Small Biz Ahead Newsletter and we’ll send you the best science-backed strategies on managing productive, happy employees—including tips on how to get them to show up on time!

6 Responses to "Always Out: What To Do When An Employee Keeps Calling In Sick"

    • Evie Hurt | December 8, 2017 at 6:35 am

      I own a small house cleaning biz and I am having problems with one employee is seems to always be sick. I believe her but it makes running my biz a bit difficult due to working short.

    • Guy | February 13, 2018 at 9:18 am

      We have this happen a-lot with the company, I work for very often. We always have to work short, and I feel burned out..

    • Diane | April 19, 2018 at 7:39 am

      Very big problem at our child-care center!

    • Sharon | April 19, 2018 at 9:50 am

      We can empathize all we want, but the conversation is simple: there is a business to run, they are a critical part of providing service and success for the business. You would love to work with them, however, the excess absences do interfere with customer satisfaction and employee satisfaction. You as a business manager or owner, but make business decisions and if they cannot be present you need to find someone who will be. Period.

    • Charles | April 19, 2018 at 2:00 pm

      Keep track of what day of the week that each employees call in sick. When I started this, I realized one employee always called in on Tuesday, when, as it turned out, his girlfriend was off work. Of course, he was married.

      You may also find a chronic problem of calling in on Fridays or Mondays (to get a three day weekend).

    • Briana | May 15, 2018 at 11:13 pm

      I run a dog Walking business . I had to recently spoke with a walker because she had missed 9 days of work already from being sick. I believe she is sick but each time it’s very difficult for me to find another Walker to cover her route and their route and it makes everyone involved burned out. I let her know as I result clients were upset and I would move her to another route, but she quit instead. Good riddance .

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