For the Small Business Owner – Managing Sick Leave Requests

by Alan Bernstein, SHRM-SCP – HR Office Savers

As I write this month’s article, we are in the midst of many unknowns regarding COVID-19. Specific to the area of employment and sick leave, I’ve received many questions on the best way to approach employee time off requests given the COVID-19 concerns.

This immediate emergency will pass, but requests for time off will not. Here are some good general guidelines you can put in place to manage your workforce and still deliver results, regardless of whether you are dealing with a virus, a hurricane, or just a regular workday:

Safety First

Keep your workplace safe. You are required by law to provide a safe workplace free from serious recognized hazards, which may include the spread of a deadly disease.

If someone is sick, send them home. It may be awkward and possibly even hurt the worker’s feelings but consider the alternative of an infected worker infecting the rest of your workplace and someone getting ill—or worse.

Pro-tip: All employers should have an emergency leave policy in case of disaster.

Be Kind

When workers come to you with questions and requests for time off, allow for some degree of flexibility. Act with compassion and grace.

If someone needs time off to care for their child or family member, let them. If they have exhausted their PTO allowance, let them take unpaid time off with no fear of losing their job. 

Pro-tip: Be sure to document the day, time and reason. You can and should still ask for consistent communication from your employees while they are on leave.

Be Firm

Most employees will be appreciative of a kind work environment. But if an employee is taking advantage of your kindness, document the abuse and performance manage them.

Options include issuing a verbal or written warning or putting them on a performance improvement plan (PIP). If the abuse is chronic or pervasive, termination may be an option.

Pro-tip: Your employee handbook or policy manual should cover time off and progressive discipline to help you manage these issues.

In Conclusion

COVID-19 has created lots of uncertainty and fear in the workplace. Create a plan now that includes time-off policies so you can get ahead of the next one. 

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Alan is the owner of HR Office Savers, Inc., an independent human resource consulting firm that supports small local businesses and individuals with their human resource needs, including staffing, compliance, and job search. Prior to launching his business, Alan held a series of Human Resource positions of increased responsibility at Harris Corporation, Honeywell International, GTSI Corp, and Verizon Wireless.  Alan holds a bachelor’s degree in Psychology from The University of Buffalo, is Six Sigma Green Belt Certified, and is a Senior Certified Professional with the Society of Human Resource Management.