I believe that my employee is making up excuses to take sick days. We take a pretty casual approach to time off and allow employees a day off here and there if they need to recharge. But this employee has called in sick for questionable reasons five times in the past six months, conveniently on Fridays and Mondays. Now they said their cat died and they need time off to grieve. I really want to call their bluff, but I don’t have any concrete evidence. I also don’t want to be taken advantage of, especially since my other employees are honest and hardworking. What can I do about this?
THE FIRST ANSWER
Natasha Lakhani, head of people at Wattpad, Toronto
This is a tricky one. Before anything else, it’s important to balance addressing your suspicions with ensuring you aren’t breaking the trust between you and the employee.
First, I would document what you have observed, specifically highlighting the Friday/Monday trend. Secondly, I would review your company’s leave of absence policies, including sick leave, personal leave and short-term disability. From there, I would have a candid conversation with the employee. Start by talking about how much you value your department’s culture, specifically around honesty, a strong work ethic and ensuring everyone is consistent in their contribution.
Next, address the fact that you want to understand a trend you’ve noticed and offer your feedback on what you’ve observed. Explain that you’d like to work together to ensure there are no extraneous issues affecting their circumstances. Be open to their perspective and don’t allow yourself to be led by your suspicions. Remember this has been an emotional year for people, and we all grieve in our own way. Offer leave options that are governed by established company policies, if applicable. Open and honest communication is always key. Start the conversation from a position of empathy, as someone who genuinely wants to understand their struggle. This will help minimize the potential for misunderstanding or conflict.
THE SECOND ANSWER
Carine Lacroix, founder and CEO of Reneshone, Toronto
Employees calling in sick on Mondays and Fridays show a questionable pattern. But as you imply, reaching a hard conclusion without evidence does not work. A manager who wants to hold the team dynamic in check should speak with the employee. This is what I recommend:
Before speaking with the person, check their records and use common sense when addressing the situation. Prior to six months ago, what was their average number of sick days taken? Was it always on a Monday or Friday? If their behaviour changed six months ago, was it because of specific circumstances inside or outside the company? See what they have to say.
Make the employee aware of the organization’s sick-leave policy by assuming all their sick leaves were valid. How many sick days are they entitled to a year for personal illness or that of family members? How many days have they used so far and what could happen if the pattern continues? Might proof be required for some circumstances not related to the employee’s health (e.g. death of a pet)?
Address the impact of their pattern on, for instance, team performance. The intent should be to facilitate the employee’s desire to show up at work, not only because it is their responsibility but because they are valued and appreciated. Also, communicate this without making them feel that you don’t value their health and well-being. In other words, sincerely praise the employee’s valuable strengths that are missed when they don’t show up. Use “and” instead of “but” when talking about the impact of their unexpected absences.
Finally, hear what your employee wants to share. This will help you decide what to do. If the recurrent pattern continues after a while, contact an employment lawyer for guidance.
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