Are My Employees Abusing Sick Leave?

Common issues effecting employers

Suspected Sick Leave Abuse

It has been a year since mandatory sick leave began in Oregon. Now that the policy has been implemented and employees are starting to accumulate and use their time – knowing what your options as an employer can help reduce the misuse of sick leave and save you money.


Q: Too many of my employees are taking sick leave at the end of the year before it expires. What can I do to prevent this?

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A: For employers that started their policy on January 1, 2016 this can be a common occurrence since Oregon sick leave is based on a benefit year. If a flood of end-of-year sick leave use overwhelms your inbox – you may want to look into changing your policy to a front-load method based on employee anniversary dates. If you need help setting this policy up, contact Cardinal.


Q: Can I incentivize employees to NOT use their sick leave?

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A: No! The sick leave law specifically requires that employees are not to be penalized monetarily for missing work. The law was intended as a public health measure. It was designed to allow employees to stay home and not spread an illness to coworkers.


Q: What if my employee does not have enough accumulated sick leave to cover their full shift?

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A: If your employee takes off 8 hours (assuming a single 8 hour day) but only has a balance of 2 hours left in the benefit year, you cannot discipline them for missing those additional 6 hours. But you do not have to pay them for those 6 hours.


Q: My employees are not showing up — and claiming it’s sick leave. Can I discipline?

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A: Depending on your sick leave policy, you may be able to discipline employees for not following proper notification procedures. Just make sure the handbook complies with state and federal law and that you have clearly communicated this procedure to all your employees.

For example, if an employee misses every Monday, can you discipline them after the third Monday in a row or the fourth? At what point can you terminate them? There are two things to consider in this example: the minimum sick leave that is required is 40 hours (five 8 hour days). Thus after the fifth instance, their leave is no longer protected. It may be the best thing to do in this situation, is to let the employee use up the leave and then discipline. Second, at some point there will be case law and/or Oregon Administrative Rules to help guide employers on this scenario. Until that point, do not risk becoming the test case unless you feel confident that you want to defend your decision in court.

All employers need to have a sick leave policy in place. If you want to discipline an employee for the aforementioned pattern of sick leave abuse, you will need to have an active policy in force.


Q: Should I be tracking Unpaid Sick Leave use?

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A: Since, your employee is not getting paid when missing work, it is inconvenient but sick time is generally only taken when someone is sick. The biggest issue would be when wanting to terminate an employee for attendance issues. If unpaid or paid sick leave is not tracked, then an employee cannot be disciplined for missing work due to an illness.


Q: Why is stating all these policies and procedures in a company handbook so important?

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A: Money! For example, you may have had a policy to pay out employee accrued leave upon termination. With the new state-mandated sick leave accrual policy, employees can accrue up to 80 hours even if they only get to use 40 hours. Your old handbook may force you to payout leave monies that you never intended! 


As we enter 2017 remember that 2016 was a “safe harbor year.” The Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries said they would not issue penalties in 2016. Now is a good time to review your sick leave policies, make changes and then communicate this policy to your employees. Speaking of a sick leave policy, when was the last time you had your employee handbook updated?

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One thought on “Are My Employees Abusing Sick Leave?

  • Larry A. Reiber

    Since this is a public health issue can an employee be sent home if they show up with a cough and/or flu symptoms even if they do not have any sick leave available, possibly from abuse or maybe not, and they wish to work?