When an employee is absent on a frequent basis, many employers take steps to remediate the issue. If the problem continues, the employee may face disciplinary action. However, when the absences are due to a disability, employers need to take a different approach. For example, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) considers clinical depression a disability. If an employee’s depression affects their ability to come into work, employers need to develop a plan to accommodate the employee without hurting office morale. This can prove even more nuanced when some or all of your workforce are remote.
Balancing Accommodations and Attendance
A common issue employers face: when an employee requests more time off after exhausting their family medical leave and/or short-term disability leave. Numerous court cases show it is reasonable for employers to expect their employees to attend work on a regular basis. However, it is less clear what qualifies as reasonable accommodations for the employee to return to work.
A recent court case shed some light on this issue. An employee with depression and anxiety requested flexible start times as well as a 10-minute break for every two hours of work. The employee suffered from panic attacks and requested the accommodations to help calm down after anxiety attacks. The Court of Appeals found these accommodations were not reasonable for numerous reasons:
- The employee worked in a customer service position requiring them to answer phone calls; the court determined regular attendance was necessary to complete the main function of this job
- The court determined flexible start times with planned breaks was not reasonable because the employee’s panic attacks were unpredictable
- The court found it was not reasonable for the employee to request more time off beyond their exhausted FMLA and disability leave because the employee’s physician could not give a specific time the employee could return to work
Employers need to evaluate each employee’s request with care before making a decision about accommodations. In the example above, the court provided some guidelines for where to draw the line, but each case is different. To learn more about absence management, contact the experts at Actec.
An employee calling out from time to time is not cause for concern. Even numerous employees calling out in quick succession can have a plausible explanation, such as the flu making its way through the office. However, excessive absences that remain unchecked can have significant consequences for businesses. Absences cost money, impede efficiency, and can hurt office morale.
Interpreting the Message
If a company notices patterns surrounding employee absences, they need to determine the root cause. Absences almost always have meaning. The following represent the most common explanations for continuing employee attendance issues.
- Unclear attendance policies or limited enforcement. If the employee handbook does not underscore the importance of adhering to arrival and departure times, employees are likely to believe their hours are flexible. The handbook also needs to clarify the leave request policy so employees know how to report sick days.
- The attendance policy is unreasonable. Employers need to take a hard look at their workforce when setting start and stop times. For example, many retail jobs rely on high school students. However, if employers demand their student employees arrive to work minutes after school lets out, they are asking for failure. Refusing to allow vacation or personal leave can also cause numerous sick leave requests. Attendance policies need to take into account employees’ work-life balance. Everyone needs time off work for personal matters, and attendance policies should reflect this.
- Personal problems. If employers notice the same employee calls out on a regular basis or always leaves early on Fridays, there may be a personal issue at play. Employers should schedule a time to talk with the employee to determine the issue. For example, the employee may be taking night classes on Fridays and needs to leave early to get to class on time. One solution for this scenario is to allow the employee to begin and leave work earlier on Fridays to meet their work schedule and school schedule needs.
Employers may not notice an attendance problem until it is out of control. By implementing absence reporting and tracking programs, managers and employers may notice trends regarding employee absences. This allows them to take action right away to contain the absences. If your office is struggling with absenteeism, Actec can help. Contact us today to learn more about our absence reporting program.
While most employers don’t begrudge their employees taking legitimate leave, problems arise when employees begin to abuse FMLA with intermittent absences. This type of fraud is difficult to tackle due to numerous and complex Department of Labor (DOL) regulations. Even so, businesses can take several steps to curtail fraudulent, intermittent leave.
Before addressing suspected leave abuse, employers must understand FMLA. The act allows eligible staff members to take 12 weeks of leave for medical reasons including to care for sick family members. FMLA also allows military caregivers to take up to 26 weeks of leave. Under FMLA, employees can take this leave without running the risk of losing their job. This includes repercussions, so employers cannot demote absent employees protected by FMLA.
Problems begin to occur when employees determine how they will take their leave, as FMLA does not make such stipulations. Employees can take their leave in one fell swoop or they can take it in intermittent blocks. If an employee opts for intermittent leave, they must provide their employers with 30 days’ notice. However, intermittent leave is not always foreseeable; in this instance, employees only need to provide notice as soon as is feasible. This last part is what allows for much of the existing FMLA abuse.
Strategies to Tackle Leave Misuse
Employers who believe staff members are misusing FMLA have some options available to them. When an employer receives notice for the need for FMLA leave from their employees, they can request a doctor’s note certifying that intermittent leave is necessary. If the employee returns with a doctor’s note, and the employer still has suspicions, they can do the following:
- Request a second medical opinion. If the second opinion differs from the first, employers can seek a third opinion to provide a majority rule.
- Request that employees provide a re-certification every 30 days or when the minimum duration of the condition passes.
- Require employees to submit a fitness-for-duty certification before allowing them to return to work with no restrictions. This helps reduce claims of relapse.
- Require employees to provide status reports on a regular basis to stay abreast of their progress and recovery.
Some leave abuse is obvious, such as when an employee is only absent on Mondays or Fridays. If an employer has reason to doubt the employee’s stated reasons for needing leave, they can request a re-certification. While most FMLA leave requests are legitimate, employers cannot afford to overlook fraud. Taking proactive steps to mitigate leave abuse helps improve workplace morale and productivity. To learn more about managing employee absences and leave requests, contact the experts at Actec.