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Proper Use of Sick Time
>>AMY SUSAN: Hi. I’m Amy Susan, Director of Communications for the Missouri Department of Labor. Currently, we’re right in the middle of flu season and many of us are having to call in sick to either take care of a kiddo with a bug or stay home and recoup ourselves. As our last segment of the HR Series Podcasts, we’re going to talk about sick leave, medical leave and how those relate to the workplace. And I’m joined here again with Tammy Cavender; she’s the HR Director for the department. And, Tammy, I mentioned the flu as an example of a typical reason why people may have to take off work and I hope to talk about that as well as how to deal with more serious health conditions as that relates to workplace and sick time. Can you tell us what people should consider as they wake up and they’re not feeling so hot, either in the morning or before they go to work the day before?
>>TAMMY CAVENDER: Sure. First they need to think back who they encountered; what kind of symptoms those folks had and whether or not they’re experiencing some of those same symptoms. Medicine.net has some great tools for the common cold and the flu to determine whether or not an employee should call in sick or come into the office and potentially risk other people getting sick. Medicine.net also states that lost productivity on the job accounts for about 60 percent of employer health costs; more than if that employee would have just used a sick day.
>>AMY: So would you agree it’s as inappropriate to go to work sick as it would be to call in and you’re really not sick?
>>TAMMY: Yes, I do.
>>AMY: So what is the best way to call in sick to your employer?
>>TAMMY: An employee should first check with their employer to see whether or not there’s a call-in policy but, generally speaking, they should contact their supervisor probably by phone, maybe by email but at the beginning of the workday. And supervisors should realize that they can ask questions of that employee when they call in, such as, you know, what symptoms are you having; how long have you had them; do you plan to see a doctor; when do you think you’ll be able to return to work. Because of HIPAA Laws, a lot of supervisors and employers are reluctant to ask those questions but they do have the right to do so.
>>AMY: And does the employee need to answer those questions?
>>TAMMY: Yes, they do. Now, the employer, however, needs to remember that they should be asking all of those same questions to all employees so that everyone is treated equally. I also would recommend that an employer documents those conversations so that if later some type of pattern develops, they have documentation to show that exists.
>>AMY: Can you explain what you mean by that when you say a pattern?
>>TAMMY: You may notice that an employee calls in the same day or the same time of the month over a certain period of time and if you have that documented, then you can visually see, you know, that employee keeps calling in on Mondays, for example. You can start a dialog and a conversation with that employee to determine why they need to be taking off that day, a certain time of the month. It may be a legitimate reason. Maybe they have child care issues or some other type of reason that would require them to be absent but the point is that if you’re sick you need to use sick leave but if it’s not for sick reasons and it’s for personal time that you need, you need to either use annual leave or vacation time; whatever your employer offers. You know, employers are giving these benefits to employees. They need to use them appropriately and not abuse them, so if they’re sick, use sick leave but, if not, they should be counting it towards their annual or vacation time.
>>AMY: What if there’s not so much a pattern going on when the employee calls in sick but rather they call in for an extended period of time?
>>TAMMY: Yes, that happens a lot. I don’t think that any employer is immune to that topic. Lots of times employees go out for maternity leave, surgery, maybe they’re recovering from an accident and all of those things would require an extended leave of absence and may fall under the Family Medical Leave Act. FMLA entitles eligible employees up to 12 weeks of unpaid protected leave for a 12-month period to be out for serious health conditions and employers that would be covered under FMLA would be local, state, federal governments, educational agencies and private employers that have 50 or more employees within a 75-mile area but all of the employers that are covered under FMLA need to remember that under the law they are required to post the rights and responsibilities of the FMLA, typically in common areas such as a break room or maybe a cafeteria.
>>AMY: Can you go ahead and provide some health examples that would be covered under FMLA?
>>TAMMY: Sure. If, as I mentioned earlier, if you have to go out for maternity leave due to a newborn; also, if the employee has a serious health condition; if the employee’s spouse, child or parent has a serious health condition. You can have FMLA leave for placement of adoption or foster care and, since January ’09, there have been some additions to the law that covers an employee’s spouse, child or parent that go out on active duty.
>>AMY: Now that we have covered examples, can you provide some examples of health issues that would not be covered under FMLA?
>>TAMMY: Sure. Your common cold, flu, typical stomach ache, ear ache, dental appointments, orthodontia problems; those would typically not fall under FMLA and would need to be charged to an employee’s sick leave.
>>AMY: And, lastly, I’d like to talk about negligence and abuse under the FMLA law. Can you provide examples of what the employee and employer rights and responsibilities are?
>>TAMMY: Sure. An employer, when that employee returns from FMLA leave, that employer, by law, has to restore that person back to their original position or an equivalent position with equivalent pay, benefits and all the other terms and conditions of the employment. The person that went out on FMLA leave is entitled to the same benefits that they would have had before they left on FMLA. Now, on the other side of that spectrum though, employers also need to be aware that there could be potential FMLA abuse by the employee and some things that an employer may want to watch for would be an employee that consistently asks for FMLA leave on Mondays, Fridays, day after a holiday; day after a sporting event. They may ask for FMLA leave when their sick leave balance is low. They could also maybe have that fit employee where they always use, year after year, their 12 weeks of FMLA but then they miraculously improve and they’re able to come back to work and they’re healthy for the remainder of the year. I’ve also seen where FMLA is requested right after disciplinary action or a counseling session with that employee. It’s also possible that you may hear through office grapevine that an employee who said they were gone because of an FMLA condition really wasn’t; maybe they were at a baseball game, for example. And then also, it’s possible that when the employee submitted their medical information, it is no longer consistent with their absences. For example, the medical documentation may have said that the employee needed to be gone once every month and that employee’s been gone five times in the last three months, so the employer has a right to ask for recertification and get some updated information from that employee.
>>AMY: Any other tips or information you’d like to add?
>>TAMMY: Well, I just want to point out that FMLA is a very big law and there is a lot of details to a lot of responsibilities that an employer must follow and we’ve only touched on a certain portion of it today, so viewers can go online and visit this website or call this number to learn more but the bottom line is that employees, when they’re sick they should be using sick leave but if they’re not sick and they just need a personal day they should be charging that time to their annual or their vacation time. And if pattern develops, that employer does have a right to ask questions, investigate and require more documentation from that employee.
>>AMY: And as stressed throughout these podcasts, communication is key and in order for the employee and the employer relationship to be successful there has to be trust. Well, Tammy, thank you for all of your insight and HR point of view. Really appreciate that. For more information, you can visit the links below this video. Thanks.