How To Deal With Rampant Sick Leave Abuse

Sick leave, unlike annual leave, cannot be planned ahead. While the percentage of workers with access to vacation days has stayed the same, those with paid sick leave has jumped. When you look at the numbers, it becomes clear that the prevalence of sick leave reduces productivity, with companies trying to combat that loss in cost-efficient ways. Paid sick leave is a necessary benefit for all employees – this includes part-timers, service workers, and others. If an employer doesn’t offer sick leave, they would accelerate health problems, thereby lowering productivity and morale. Despite the pressure to maintain presenteeism to improve work performance and efficiency, employees need paid sick leave programs for security and overall happiness. Yet, some organizations suffer from rampant sick leave abuse, which ultimately translates into huge losses.

Bad news, right?

Sick leave abuse is a critical subject in the management field. In fact, it is a necessary part of any organization because it shows that management is compliant about abuse of sick leave policies and that harm it can do in unplanned costs. Studies conducted by independent organizations have established that sick leave abuse can cost a company between $500 and $1,000 per employee annually.

What is sick leave abuse?

Abuse of sick leave refers to employees who, over a period of time, violate the organization’s attendance policy. Exploitation of sick leave policy may range from employees not calling or not showing up for their shifts, exhausting their available leave every month, and requesting extra time off when well.

“The place where I work, each time somebody calls off, it is my responsibility to cover for them,” says Regina Levitt, a retail worker in New Jersey. “My supervisor does nothing to follow up with the repeat offenders. He does not ask for a doctor’s note, no write-ups, nothing. Even on my off days my phone is being blown with messages from my supervisor asking to cover up for someone.”


It is crucial to discipline employees with absenteeism problems. HR experts say the best way to do this is by rolling out a lucid policy that specifies that organization’s standards and employee requirements. It should also be mentioned in the policy that blatant misuse may ultimately lead to termination.

For instance, if employees are off work on a Friday or Monday, or on the working day before or after a public holiday, they must produce a medical certificate. You may be a flexible organization, but at the end of the day, you have to remain compliant so employees don’t exploit policies for their personal gains.


Insist that employees fill up sick leave forms every time they take a sick leave. In the long run, this will help you identify if there is a sick leave pattern with a certain employee. It also helps accumulate evidence if you launch an inquiry on an employee due to his ongoing absence or injury should the need arise.

Please note: sick leave forms are different from medical certificates.


Ask for a medical certificate if the employee is absent for more than two consecutive days; or on more than three occasions during a long weekend. Make sure your employees are well-informed of the aforesaid policy. Also, the medical certificate should be obtained from a registered professional council.

Only accept medical certificates that state clearly that the employee has been examined by the medical practitioner. In case the employee fails to produce a medical certificate when you ask for one, treat this as a disciplinary issue. You can charge with unauthorized absence from work, and deduct it from his annual leave or make him take the time off as unpaid leave.


For example:

Offer regular body checkups. This way you can assess any health-related problems and suggest the employee take preventive steps.

Offer flu injection that will help prevent employees from falling ill especially during the colder months.

Offer a bonus to employee finish a certain period without taking any sick leave.

How do you deal with rampant sick leave abuse, sick pay and attendance policies? Please share your thoughts in the comment section below.

Priyansha Mistry
Currently editor at The HR Digest Magazine. She helps HR professionals identify issues with their talent management and employment law. | Priyansha tweets at @PriyanshaMistry

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