How to Solve That Pesky Sick Leave Problem

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There’s been considerable discussion about mandated, paid sick-leave over the last few years. Proponents say providing paid sick leave is something businesses should do. Opponents say it’s too expensive.

The current situation with Covid has changed this discussion some, but at some point we’ll be back to talking about things like flu or a sick child. So, let’s examine the question from two points of view.

Employees want to be able to stay home when they are ill and not take a financial hit. That seems reasonable.

Employers don’t want to pay someone for not working. That too seems reasonable.
In the employer’s point of view, they hired an employee to do a job. If that employee is not able to do the job, then why should they be paid? Hold on there Machiavelli. What does forcing a sick employee to work really accomplish? He or she probably won’t accomplish as much, will not be as accurate or reliable on the job, and will most likely spread whatever nastiness they have to others, maybe making the whole crew sick. What is that going to cost?

I hear cheering out there with comments like, “You tell them,” and “We shouldn’t have to work if we’re sick.” But just a minute Mr./Ms. employee. Even the most benevolent employer often has suspicions that their employees are sometimes gaming the system, using a sick day to take a day off without using normal vacation time. It’s hard to accept that you had to have time off to care for your spouse’s second cousin’s aunt. Then, when you do get sick, and are out of sick days, you’re just going to drag that nastiness into the office anyway.

So, what’s the answer?

It starts with trust. A lack of trust on both sides is at the foundation of this discussion. Employees don’t trust the company to allow them a day or two when they seem to be restricted to the porcelain room in their homes. The company doesn’t trust that their employees will not abuse the time the company generously allows them for illness.

Developing trust starts with the employer – actually the leadership of the company. Have you created the kind of work environment that is engaging for your team members? Do they clearly understand the purpose of the company and its goals? Do they know why what they do is essential to achieving that purpose and meeting those goals? More importantly, do they know that you truly understand and appreciate that what they do is essential to the company?

When the answers to these questions are yes, there is a significant decrease in absenteeism. When people feel they are a valued part of the team, they want to be there.

But, no matter how much they want to be there, your employees also have lives outside of the company. They have doctor appointments, they have to get drivers licenses renewed, their kids have a soccer game, etc. And yes, they really do get sick sometimes. They don’t want to use vacation days for that. Vacation days are for packing everyone up in the family truckster and heading off for Disney World, not for taking Fido to the vet because his hair is falling out.

Here’s a suggestion I learned from a large company.

Each employee is given a set number of personal days each year, outside of normal vacation days. Twelve in this company’s case; one day a month. The employee could take one of these days anytime they wished, for whatever they wished. No questions asked. They did not count as vacation days, but when those days were gone, they were gone. At the end of the year the company would buy back any of those 12 days that were not used. The buyback was set at a rate dependent on basic salary.

Whatever method the company uses, when you establish a motivational environment where employees trust the company you’ll find that the company can trust the employees and questions like time off do not have to end up in the local government’s hands.

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