Navigating state and federal laws can be challenging for small businesses

Tina, your administrative assistant, arrived 30 minutes late today and didn't follow your company's absentee call-in procedures. When you ask her to explain, she says only that she had a rough morning. But she's later overheard telling a coworker that she had to find a babysitter for her sick child. Can you discipline Tina for failing to follow your company's call-in policy?

The answer isn't always clear, says Beverly Garofalo, managing partner at the Hartford office of Jackson Lewis LLP. Addressing 150 attendees at CBIA's Annual HR Conference in Cromwell, Garofalo explained that 14 state and federal laws: including Connecticut FMLA, federal FMLA, and Connecticut Paid Sick Leave (CPSL): could protect Tina.

"Every absence has to be analyzed individually," she says. "There's just no one-size-fits-all approach."

In Tina's case: assuming your company falls under CPSL: she is eligible for paid sick leave because she's considered a service worker. Child care, the reason for her absence, would also make her eligible: if she had told you the truth. Since she violated your company policy on call-in procedures, you can take disciplinary action.

Three-Question Test

Garofalo advises employers to ask three questions when faced with a challenging leave scenario:

  • Is the employee entitled to be absent with job protection?
  • Has your company committed to providing additional job-protected leave?
  • Is additional leave required as a reasonable accommodation for employees with disabilities?

While Garofalo acknowledged that those questions may not resolve every leave problem, they do provide a framework for helping companies comply with laws like CPSL.

"[The laws] are changing so fast," said Victoria DeBarge, office manager at Tri-Com Consulting Group in Middletown, who also serves as an HR department of one. "My main goal is making sure we remain compliant."

Other Tips

  • Provide managers with basic training on employees' legal protections to help them avoid making decisions that put your company in a difficult legal situation.
  • For situations not covered by CPSL or FMLA, create policies with clear disclaimer language that gives your company full discretion to determine when absences become excessive. Explicitly state that your company can take any action at any time.
  • Be equitable. If you allow one employee to make up missed time, give all of your employees the same opportunity. Document your rationale when you make exceptions not extended to your entire workforce.

View presentations from CBIA's Annual HR Conference here.