How to Deal with Employees Using Sick Days

As an employer, it can be tricky to manage sick days and sick leave. You want to make sure that sick employees are treated fairly, but you also need to make sure that your company’s policies aren’t being abused—all while honoring the contractual obligations of your sick-leave policy.


It’s important to have a thorough understanding of the requirements for sick leave in your organization, and to monitor employee use of sick days in order to watch for potential patterns of abuse.

Sick leave regulations in the United States

Currently, there is no law that requires employers to offer paid sick days to their employees, although many companies provide this as a benefit. There is, however, a federal regulation that applies to several organizations under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), which requires up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave for defined medical situations involving an employee or a member of an employee’s immediate family.

The benefits of a sick-day policy

A thoughtful and well-managed sick leave policy can provide several advantages to your organization. Allowing employees to take paid days off when they’re sick can help you reduce turnover and increase productivity, as well as allow parents to care for sick children without having to sacrifice salary.

Encouraging employees to stay home when they’re sick also helps to prevent the spread of illness in the workplace. In the United States, 68 percent of workers have reported they’ve gone to work with a contagious condition, and nearly 50 percent said they went to work sick because they couldn’t afford to miss a day’s pay.

Recognizing sick day abuse

Often, abuse of sick-leave policies can be recognized through a pattern of suspicious requests for sick days. This may include repeated requests for:

  • Calling in sick on days when the employee is scheduled for an unwanted assignment
  • Sick day requests on days when the employee was denied vacation or personal days off
  • Frequently calling in sick on Fridays or Mondays to extend a weekend, or the days before or after paid holidays

Steps to take if you suspect sick day abuse

Employers must proceed with caution when accusing employees of abusing sick leave. Some employees may view harsh enforcement of sick-day policies as discrimination or harassment, and if the accusations are unfounded, they can lead to litigation.

Your first step in cases of suspected abuse should be to find out as much as you can about the reasons for the employee’s frequency of calling in sick. Often sick days are abused by employees who are dissatisfied with their job for whatever reason—but in some cases, sick leave abuse can stem from an employee’s personal problems, such as family difficulties or substance abuse.

In any case, it’s a good idea to counsel the employee regarding legitimate reasons for using sick days, and explain what disciplinary actions may result from continued abuse. When this action has been documented, you may require the employee to provide supporting documentation for sick days, such as a doctor’s note.

Recognizing potential patterns of sick leave abuse and taking action is essential for maintaining a well-run sick day policy in your organization. Proceed with caution, but don’t allow the abuse to get out of hand. To learn more about how we can help you find top behavioral health talent, contact us today at (513) 651-9500 or by email at

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