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Developing Healthy Policies for Dealing with Sick Workers

According to the Center for American Progress (CAP), the United States is the only developed nation in the world that does not guarantee some amount of paid sick leave on a federal level. The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) does mandate eligible employers to provide unpaid family leave in certain situations but makes no provision for paid time off due to personal or family medical issues.

This has some serious consequences. CAP reports that workers without paid sick leave are 1.5 times more likely to work when sick, increasing the risk of spreading their illness to other workers. This can make the lack of sick leave potentially very costly to employers, as not only are sick workers less productive, but they can decrease the productivity of others at the same time.

This may be why many states and cities have passed their own sick leave requirements, but the lack of federal guidelines means that employers may be subject to multiple requirements depending on the jurisdictions in which they do business. And the requirements can vary a great deal.

· California, for example, mandates 24 hours (three workdays for a typical full-time employee) of paid sick leave per year; Connecticut requires five workdays.

· California workers accrue one hour of paid sick leave for every 30 hours worked; in Washington, it’s every for 40 hours worked.

· Employers might be required to roll over accrued sick leave to the next year, or they might not.

· Some require the paid time off to incorporate “safe time,” or time off related to domestic violence or stalking.

And so on. The requirements can quickly turn into a complicated tangle of rules.

Then, employers need to worry about abuse of their sick leave policy. In general, employees are not likely to abuse paid sick leave. CAP reports that covered workers take an average of 3.9 days per year for illness and 1.3 days to care for sick family members, only a couple days more than the average of 3 days per year uncovered workers take.

Still, unscheduled absenteeism costs companies $3,600 per year for each hourly worker and $2,650 per year for each salaried worker. However, most attendance policy violations seem to be procedural: failing to get permission, to provide advance notice when possible, or to report the absence as required.

The best thing organizations can do here is develop clear policies and guidelines that they then communicate regularly to employees, including requiring the employee to certify that they have read and understood the policy. Just make sure that policy accommodates all requirements. “You have to look at the specific laws that affect your employees, because each one is different,” said Beth Baerman, director of communications and compliance at Attendance Demand Inc. at the SHRM 2018 Annual Conference and Exposition.


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