Federal managers: Who makes the decision about when to use sick leave? Is it always the employee? Do you ever suspect that the employee may be abusing sick leave, but you lack proof? Do managers have any control over this most basic employee entitlement?
The answer is in the “leave restriction letter,” or as it’s called in some agencies, a “letter of requirements” or a “leave status letter.”
By custom, employees may self-certify the first three days of any sick leave absence. After three days, an agency may require medical evidence to support the absence.
When an employee is out on unscheduled absences claiming an entitlement to sick leave because of incapacitation, the manager must usually grant the sick leave if the employee self-certifies for an absence of three days or less. But if the unscheduled absences become a pattern, and particularly if the employee is needed at work, the manager may resort to a leave restriction letter. This is a written notice that the employee may no longer self-certify unscheduled sick leave absences.
Managers should note that a leave restriction letter is not about having clear proof of leave abuse, nor should a leave restriction letter be considered punitive, although the employee may feel that way. Instead, managers should consider the leave restriction letter a tool to address unwelcome and unpredictable patterns. Putting an employee on a leave restriction letter is a matter of management discretion. It is easy to do, and a visit to the human resources office will produce a letter with the necessary requirements.
Office of Personnel Management regulations on sick leave permit agencies to require employees to submit administratively acceptable evidence. This normally means self-certification, but after a three-day absence or after placement on a leave restriction letter, it means a doctor’s note or other medical evidence.
A typical leave restriction letter tells an employee that beginning immediately the employee must produce medical evidence to justify any claim of incapacitation to support an unscheduled absence. The evidence must be produced before sick leave will be approved. Unapproved absences will be recorded as absent without leave (AWOL). The letter should indicate an end date to the restriction, usually about six months in duration.
The employee should also be told about the procedure for reporting an unscheduled absence. For example, the letter might indicate that the employee call by a certain time and speak to a certain manager about the absence. The letter might also say that the employee cannot under any circumstances leave a voice mail or send an e-mail to report an unscheduled absence.
Some employees may express reluctance to share personal health information with the supervisor, particularly if a rift exists in the supervisor-subordinate relationship or if the employee’s health issue is sensitive, private or embarrassing. A manager is still entitled to receive medical evidence showing the employee’s incapacitation, but the manager may opt to have the evidence reviewed by a Public Health Service medical professional instead, who can then certify to the manager that the employee’s evidence is sufficient to prove incapacitation. If there is no Public Health Service option, the submission of the medical evidence to the HR office may also satisfy the employee’s concern about privacy.
Cautions about issuing a leave restriction letter:
- Have the requirements of pattern and need to justify the letter.
- If you have a union in your workforce, read the collective bargaining agreement and follow any prerequisites for a leave restriction letter.
- If you have two or more employees with patterns of unscheduled absences, put all of them on leave restriction letters or document the business reasons why one employee is on leave restriction and another is not.
- A leave restriction letter should not be used lightly, but it is an effective tool to stem sick leave abuses.