Sick Leave Abuse


            The recent economic recession is leading to a familiar scenario: Budget cuts cause an agency to reduce its staffing levels and no new hiring occurs.  The agency resorts to minimum staffing and mandatory overtime for its public safety officers.  As a result the officer is unable to enjoy his days off and burnout or fatigue follow.  In order to get rest and relief, a public safety officer uses a day of his sick time instead of reporting to work.  Is this sick leave abuse?  The following article will assist in dealing with this issue.  

            Following are categories of permissible types of sick leave commonly listed in public safety officer personnel rules:   

–          Use of sick leave for disability including but not limited to being unfit for work as a result of injury or illness. 

–          Medical and dental appointments for the public safety officer that cannot be reasonably scheduled during off duty time.

–          Arranging/obtaining medical care for immediate family members who are ill or injured.

If the public safety officer must use sick leave, it is imperative to become familiar with the agency’s attendance and sick leave policy.  If the policy requires advanced notice to a supervisor when ill, the public safety officer should make all attempts to do so.  Similarly, avoid high number of absences, early departures or showing up late for a shift.  A public safety officer who ignores the agency’s attendance or sick leave policy will give the unfortunate appearance that he is attempting to exploit the system.  

When an agency suspects that a public safety officer is abusing sick leave, it may require sick leave substantiation.  The public safety officer can be required upon his return to work to provide some written verification of medical treatment/appointment.  If you are ordered to provide sick leave substantiation, you should immediately consult your MOU or relevant personnel rules to determine the requirements for your particular situation.  It is advisable to consult with your legal counsel to attempt to avoid sick leave substantiation or to minimize the length of time in which you must continue to provide sick leave substantiation.

Lastly, when an agency determines that a public safety officer is committing sick leave abuse it may also attempt to impose discipline.  The public safety officer should immediately consult with legal counsel to determine if there are any defenses or mitigating factors to present to the agency.  In the scenario above, it would be advisable to argue that such use of sick leave is permissible due to the physical fatigue that is analogous to being ill.  The public safety officer would surely experience other health related problems if he failed to address his fatigue via the use of sick leave. (The public safety officer should never state that he is suffering from increased stress levels from work as this may lead to a fitness for duty examination.) In essence, the public safety officer must provide a well reasoned explanation for the use of sick leave at the appropriate time to avoid or reduce discipline that may otherwise result.  In extreme cases where the public safety officer has failed to do so, the author of this article has witnessed agencies accuse an officer of dishonesty for alleged sick leave abuse under similar circumstances.  With these guidelines, the public safety officer should be able to avoid a similar situation.