How Do You Handle The Situation When You Suspect An Employee Of Abusing Sick Leave?

What happens if you're suspicious that an employee is abusing his or her sick leave? What right do you have, as an employer, to demand a doctor's note?

The problem isn't that uncommon.

Frankly, about 30% of your employees are probably lying when they call in sick. Some of them are just sick of work and don't feel like coming. Others just don't want to brave the weather on bad days. Some are just tired and want to sleep.

If you suspect that an employee is faking being sick, you might resort to checking his or her social media accounts to see if they're posting online or even drive by his or her house if it's close enough to where you work.

If it's an occasional thing, you might just ignore it, but if an employee seems to constantly have a case of the flu on Mondays, Fridays, and around holidays, the result can be a disrupted workforce. The "sick" employee's co-workers may also become discontent (because if you're suspicious, they probably are too). It can cause a lot of strife when employees think that someone is getting away with something underhanded and management isn't doing anything.

The solution isn't always very easy.

Legally, you may have to walk a fine line. The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPPA) grants employees a certain amount of privacy when it comes to their health. The Privacy Rule granted by HIPPA doesn't prevent you from asking for a doctor's note in order to administer sick leave properly, but it does prevent you from asking for too many details.

Trying to verify an employee's suspicious sick leave without putting an unnecessary burden on legitimately sick employees or your human resource department can be tricky. There are some steps that you can follow to make the system reasonable and fair:

  • Don't listen to office gossip. If someone "tattles" on a co-worker who called in sick, telling you that he or she saw their co-worker out shopping after having called in sick, don't jump to conclusions. The sick employee may have been out picking up a prescription or getting a few essentials to make it through the day.

  • Examine your records. Be more inclined to be suspicious if there seems to be a pattern of call-offs by a particular employee around weekends and holidays. Another thing to look for is denied leave requests. It isn't unheard of for an employee whose request for a vacation day was denied to suddenly come down ill on that exact date.

  • Pay attention to your policies. You should have a clear policy for call-off notifications. (If you don't, you need to get one.) Your policy should be the same for all employees and abide by any state and local laws. If you aren't sure what the laws are, talk to a business attorney to make sure that you're compliant.

  • Make documentation requirements clear. While you can request a doctor's note, consider providing a form for your employees to give to their doctor. That way, you make it extremely clear that you aren't requesting diagnostic information, just a certification that the employee was sick or needs sick leave.

  • Don't make it complicated. If you have an employee who is calling off frequently but says that he or she has a medical condition that is causing the frequent absenteeism, just ask for a doctor's note saying that he or she needs "intermittent leave" due to his or her condition.

  • Enforce policies uniformly. Don't target a specific employee, even if you're sure that he or she is abusing sick leave. Ask for documentation from an employee even if you happen to be privy to his or her medical situation and are 100% sure that he or she isn't faking.

It's probably not possible to prevent every case of the "Friday Flu," but you can legally combat the problem without violating your employee's rights to privacy and opening yourself up to a lawsuit.