My employee is regularly taking sick leave. Help!

This article first appeared on October 12th, 2011.

Dear Aunty B,

A staff member at one of our locations regularly takes sick leave days. He is off a minimum of one day a month, sometimes two separate days a month.

I’ve just discovered it has been going on for around five years! It’s not that he gets the “flu” regularly; just that he’s “unwell” and can’t come to work for the day.

Our business operates seven days a week, 365 days a year, with shifts covering from early morning until late at night. When he’s sick, it means his colleagues have to work harder to pick up the slack, or on occasions we’re able to get a casual to fill in. He doesn’t seem to get sick either side of days off or weekends off, so avoids having to produce a medical certificate or other “satisfactory evidence”.

Now that I’ve become aware of the problem, I’ve looked at the sick leave pattern for the remainder of the staff at that location, and am shocked at the high incidence of sick leave. By comparison, our eight other locations around the state have virtually no sick leave taken.

How should I handle this? On the one hand, it could be there’s something happening in his personal life that’s affecting his ability to work and perhaps he needs help of some sort. On the other, there’s a feeling that he has a sick day just because he doesn’t feel like coming into work, and that this has rubbed off onto the others at his location, given their high sick leave usage compared to everywhere else.

Not a GP, but suspicious!



Dear Not a GP,

I am in no doubt that what you have on your hands is a sick culture. His colleagues see him getting away with regular sickies, they get sick of filling in for him and so they decide it is okay to take sickies too.

The first thing to do is to make sure someone is in charge of that location. Often companies as they expand don’t put reporting structures into their separate locations as it drives costs up. But I find you suffer in the long run because people like to know who is in charge as they set the culture. People come to work on time, work hard and leave when appropriate, as overseen by the person in charge.

When someone is sick, the person in charge, who works so closely with them, knows when it is genuine. If someone is away a lot on Mondays and Fridays because they have gastro or they are unwell, then you know they are taking sickies. You may see other signs. They are disengaged, sarcastic and not motivated to take on extra work. This affects their performance.

Address this head on. If you have a person in charge, have them present. Point out that this is a performance issue and show them the pattern of absence. Ask what is wrong and how you can help. If he simply says he is unwell, then you have to tell him that being unwell is affecting his performance and he needs to be more specific. You never know. You might issues that you can help him with. He might be suffering from depression or have family troubles and you might discuss alternatives such as a four day week to allow him to get treatment in his own time. Make sure you document all parts of this discussion – record keeping is crucial in all employee matters like this.

And if he does just like a long sleep-in after a drug fuelled weekend at the expense of you and your employees, then you are letting him know in no uncertain terms that you are onto him.

Be smart,

Your Aunty B

To read more Aunty B advice, click here.

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