Clients sometimes call us with questions regarding the discipline of employees for violation of sick leave or vacation policies. As public employers, your discipline options may be governed by a collective bargaining agreement, by personnel policies, or by both. However, before jumping to your discipline options, it is often useful to review these policies and agreements to see if your staff is properly applying them. You may have provisions in either your collective bargaining agreement or your personnel policies which allow you to effectively manage employee behavior without initiating discipline as your first option, such as: requiring a doctor’s note and disallowing the use of other paid time off once an employee’s sick leave allotment has been expended. Using these provisions correctly and applying them even-handedly may help you avoid discipline problems, costly grievances, and can control costs.
Allowing continued violations of your sick leave policies can cost a government thousands of dollars, can injure employee morale, and may jeopardize your government’s ability to enforce your rules later on. As just one example, in Nevada, Clark County tracked firefighters’ use of sick leave and found a pervasive pattern of abuse. The county then started enforcing its own sick leave policies and within one year the use of sick leave by the fire department fell by 57,000 hours. This change in supervisor and employee patterns saved the county millions of dollars.
If after reading this you review your personnel policies or your collective bargaining agreements and find that you’d like to change the way you are enforcing existing policies, you should contact your attorney before significantly changing any past practices. Furthermore, should you decide that individual employee discipline is warranted, we always recommend that you contact an attorney and your insurer before taking significant disciplinary action. In taking these simple steps, you enforce your policies, avoid labor strife, and save your government time and money.