HR Management & Compliance

What to Say—Excessive Absenteeism, Patterning, and Intermittent Leave

In yesterday’s Advisor, we got Paul Falcone’s advice on just what to say when employees say “It’s off the record.” Today, we have his words for excessive absenteeism and FMLA abuse, plus an introduction to an extraordinary program to simplify policy writing and management.

Falcone, a prolific writer on HR topics and a popular speaker, is Vice President, Employee Relations, at Time Warner Cable in Los Angeles. He is the author of the best-selling 101 Tough Conversations to Have with Employees: A Manager’s Guide to Performance, Conduct, and Discipline Challenges and 101 Sample Write-Ups for Documenting Employee Performance Problems: A Guide to Progressive Discipline and Termination.

Falcone’s remarks came at the recent Society for Human Resource Management Conference and Exhibition in San Diego.

4. Excessive Absenteeism and “Patterning”

[Go here for Challenges 1 to 3.]

“Sarah, now that we’ve discussed the number or quantity of incidents, we’ve got to discuss the quality, so to speak. Yes, I look at the number of unscheduled absences, but I also look to see when they’re occurring on the calendar.
“In your case, two of the three incidents either happened on a Friday or a Monday, and that’s a separate problem in and of itself.
“The way we look at it, any time an employee takes more than 50 percent of his or her time off around weekends and holidays, we may have a “pattern” problem on our hands.
“In your case, with two of the three incidents happening around the weekend, that represents 66 percent of your incidents occurring on either end of your regularly scheduled time off. That’s an additional problem and is considered a separate infraction, as far as I’m concerned.
“Yes, three occurrences of unscheduled absence won’t trigger anything formal at our company in terms of a disciplinary response. And two of three incidents occurring on Mondays or Fridays may be pure coincidence. But I need you to become very sensitive to this issue as well.
“In short, I need you to fix both areas. Can I count on you to do that?”

5. Intermittent FMLA Abuse

“We respect your need for intermittent time off, but we’ll ask you to meet us half way …
“Your medical certification authorizes you to have off as follows …
“However, it doesn’t authorize you to come in late, fail to get your supervisor’s permission, or take additional time off beyond …
“So, if you need additional time off beyond the scope of your current med cert, you’ll need to see your doctor and provide us with appropriate documentation.
“Likewise, please understand that intermittent FMLA abuse is subject to corrective action, so we’ll want to keep the lines of communication open at all times.”


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In his experience, says Falcone, about 3 percent to 5 percent of employees cause problems with FMLA, and that’s just a cost of doing business. “Manage the 95 percent,” he says, and sooner or later the abuse will catch up to the others.

Falcone’s Final Tips

  • Don’t ever rush to judgment: You’re better off placing an individual on a paid, investigatory leave when you need additional time to reach a conclusion.
  • Don’t manage by fear of a lawsuit; Instead, make sure that if one comes your way, you’re getting sued on your terms, not theirs!
  • Always focus on shifting responsibility for improvement away from your company and to the employee (where it rightfully belongs).
  • Successful verbal interventions allow you to handle matters respectfully, responsibly, and in a timely manner, which are the key tenets of workplace due process and fairness.

How about your discipline policy? FMLA usage policy? Are they detailed? Up to date? Our editors estimate that for most companies, there are 50 or so policies that need regular updating (or that may need to be written). It’s easy to let it slide, but you can’t afford to back-burner work on your policies—they’re your only hope for consistent and compliant management for avoiding lawsuits—and for coping with disasters.

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