Ask the Lawyer received the following paraphrased question from a reader on a legal matter that might be of interest to the entire audience.
Q: Please let me know what constitutes sick leave abuse.
A: Sick Leave Abuse Explained
Sick leave abuse is a broad and controversial subject that unfortunately is pervasive in the federal workplace. It occurs when an employee misrepresents that either he or she or a family member have an illness or medical condition that requires the employee to be absent from the workplace on an approved leave status to care for him or herself or the family member. Typical examples include employees claiming day-long medical appointments or being ill but instead wanting a long weekend, claiming a full day of sick leave when the medical appointment is for only one hour and employees can report back to work, claiming they are unfit to perform their duties due to an illness or impairment when they are not impaired, and substituting annual leave with sick leave for a non-medical absence just because annual leave is exhausted.
Most managers suspect sick leave abuse only once it becomes a pattern, such as when employees habitually use sick leave for frequent absences, request sick leave near or on work deadlines, or submit sick leave requests near the weekends or to extend pre-scheduled vacations. In those cases, it is usually best for managers to first monitor the employee’s use of sick leave and give closer scrutiny to the supporting medical documentation (which may be required for more than three days of sick leave). If the absences continue, the next step is placing the employee on leave restriction with a formal written notice outlining specific time and attendance and leave requirements, including providing medical documentation for every unscheduled absence.
Sick leave abuse is a serious offense and should be addressed head-on by management. Besides stealing time from the federal government under false pretenses and causing a disruption to the workplace, sick leave abuse sets a bad example for others in the office and can adversely affect morale. Managers should consult with their human resources office as early as possible and before taking action to ensure that they are following rules and receive advice on how best to address the issue with the employee.
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