National Association of Counties * Washington, D.C. Vol. 32, No. 20 * November 6, 2000
Ode to Sick Leave Abusers
One of the most cherished employee benefits is sick leave. Most public agencies have policies that give employees the right (i.e., the entitlement) to accrue some amount of paid sick leave, such as eight hours per month. This time may be accrued in a sick leave bank and is often something that accrues a cash value paid to the employee upon separation, retirement, death, etc.
Sick leave provides what amounts to short-term disability insurance. That noble purpose was created as a benefit in the post-World War II world to encourage employment stability and make the organization an attractive competitive place for employment and retention. However, sick leave management has become extremely complex.
The first complication is that we have trouble understanding the word sick. New technologies, new diagnoses, new treatments prompt increasing demands from employees to visit doctors, physical therapists, get checkups, have blood tests, get allergy shots, take the kids to all their medical visits, or accompany mom and pop or grandma and grandpa to the doctors office.
The acute distress suffered by employers in the administration of sick leave is compounded by the administrative work, training needs and pain relievers, associated with applying the Family Medical Leave Act. Added to this recipe for complexity are the vague interpretations and definitions in the Americans with Disabilities Act.
To further add to the clinical depression of HR directors is the fact that a small percentage of employees regard sick leave as an entitlement to use as paid time off when they or members of their immediate families are not ill. Most employees, fortunately, do not fall into this category. Unfortunately, a few do and they display remarkable tendencies to become too ill to work on Fridays, Mondays or the day before or after holidays.
For example, sick leave verification, especially for persons with patterns of unscheduled absences, may involve doctor notes and confrontations with management over employee veracity.
In turn, all four parties in the sick leave equation feel oppressed by
the system. Employees feel picked on and can be turned into antagonists in
relation to the employer. Physicians offices are often lined with
loitering employees waiting for the office staff to finish writing the
please excuse Jimmy letter to be signed by the next staff member at the
office who walks by.
In a paid-time-off model there is only one category of leave and the same amount is available to all employees. The leave may be used when illness strikes, or for any other more positive purpose. In terms of scheduled time off, all employees are treated with a sense of equity and the employer spends less time chasing down and monitoring the two-hour sick leave used last Friday.
The HR Doctor sees paid-time-off being augmented with short-term disability income protection insurance so that after some period of time, such as five consecutive days, of medical inability to work, the insurance program provides an income subsidy such as 80 percent of regular pay for the employee thats an 80 percent disability payment which may not be subject to income taxes.
Add a further supplement for those very unfortunate and hopefully very rare massive medical problems such as those following occurrences of heart attack, major accident, organ transplant, chemotherapy treatments, etc., and the package will be more equitable and require less process frustration.
Finally, sick leave, though perhaps a benefit of the last century, is not likely to go away anytime soon because it is thought to be an entitlement by many and enshrined in personnel policies and labor agreements to the point where it is the fringe benefit equivalent of petrified wood. However, it will evolve and that evolution will be a good thing for employees and public agencies.
The HR Doctor wishes you good health and ask you to please wear your seat belts. And dont forget to visit at http://www.hrdr.net/.