Protecting Your Leave of Absence Policies

HR & Safety

Tips for preventing abuse and dealing with unscrupulous employees

Your years of experience as an employer have probably taught you that most of your employees are dependable and trustworthy. But everyone runs into personnel challenges now and then, especially when it comes to managing time off. Perhaps you’ve faced situations similar to these:

One of your machinists says that he needs to schedule regular physical therapy appointments during work hours. You know that most physical therapy centers offer convenient early morning and evening appointments, but he insists the only sessions available are Fridays at 3 pm.

An account manager tells you that she needs every Monday off for court appearances. Because of her spotty attendance record, you suspect she may just be trying to extend her weekend.

One of your sales reps requests time off to care for a child with a chronic medical condition, but unconfirmed reports of his whereabouts lead you to suspect that he’s using the time for other purposes.

An employee on workers’ comp receives medical clearance to go back to work but informs you that she’s not fully healed. You worry that she may get hurt again but aren’t sure of your obligations.

If you’ve faced any of these scenarios, you’re not alone, according to John Letizia of New Haven law firm Letizia, Ambrose & Falls P.C. Letizia discussed employer and employee rights regarding leaves of absence at CBIA’s Annual HR Conference on May 3 in Rocky Hill.

Letizia reviewed the ins and outs of FMLA, workers’ comp, ADA, and military leave and offered ways to handle employees who try to abuse the system. He said that while most employees abide by the rules, the abusers keep employers on their toes.

Letizia insisted there’s only one approach to take when it appears someone is taking advantage of a leave situation.

“You have to appear as a good guy,” he said, encouraging attendees to make sure documentation reflects how well they’ve treated an employee while he or she is on leave. “If you don’t, you’re going to lose [your case].”

Homework Matters

Letizia pointed out that employers who do their homework have the best chance of successfully managing employees who take advantage of leave. His suggestions include:

Make sure leave policies are clear. If your employees don’t understand them, how can they follow them?

Get proof that an employee is violating your policies or being dishonest. Are you allowed to check into someone’s medical information? No. Are you allowed to see if a worker lied about the limited availability of doctor’s appointments? Yes.

Write it down. Make every effort to document details, including the number and pattern of absences, conversations with an employee about leave, how his or her situation is progressing, and any observations from supervisors. In certain situations, it may be possible to communicate with doctors about an employee’s injury, the progression of recovery, and changes in the doctor’s medical opinion.

Confront bad employees. If someone’s leave situation enables him or her to steal time or money from you, you’re entitled to take action.

Make light duty work available. It’s common knowledge among HR professionals that the longer an employee is out on leave, the more accustomed to being away he or she becomes. It’s in your best interest to always have a light duty position available to help get an employee back into a work routine as soon as possible.

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