Showing Up Sick–Are you Rewarding it?

Are you rewarding people for coming to work sick?

Inasmuch as perfect attendance is a good thing, people seeking the perfect attendance award are coming to work sick.

Inasmuch as you wish to let people encash their unused sick time or annual leave, do you realise you are rewarding people who are sick not to take time off, when they should?

I had this debate yesterday with 8 experienced HR leaders with experience totaling over 80 years. No one denied that encashment of unused leave is rewarding people for coming to work sick rather than taking time off. No one denied that perfect attendance awards rewards people for coming to work, even when they shouldn’t.

Suppose you provide 10 sick days per year, and unused days can be encashed. Those 10 days, divided by 260 working days per year (5 days/week x 52 weeks), represents a “raise” of about 3.8%. You tell people to stay home if they are sick, and go to the doctor, yet you let them give themselves a 3.8% raise if they physically come to work every day.

If you are trying to incentivise people to actually stay healthy, then cover preventive healthcare, focus on wellness, and take temperatures at the door. But consider whether your sick time policy is aligned with your wellness message.

But hold it! If we stop letting people encash sick time, they will be upset and the union or labor laws will see it as a take away.. For what it’s worth, our job is not to make people happy. But our job in HR/C&B does include health and safety. Redirect the savings from canceling perfect attendance awards or sick leave encashment, towards health and wellness practices. Roll it into healthcare. Or add it to your health reimbursement/flex allowance. Talk to your union–they will admit it makes good sense from a health perspective. Maybe there’s a win-win opportunity here.

Attendance can be managed as a performance issue

Keep in mind that attendance can be managed as a performance issue. It can and should be tracked for those in jobs where showing up is essential, such as physical labor, machine operation, driving, lobby reception, etc. When they are absent but not sick and not on an approved leave, there should be performance consequences, such as verbal warning, then written warning, then termination. You provide sick days, make them use them and do not reward people with the option to encash unused sick time, or they will be tempted not to use them, especially people in lower-paying jobs who live paycheck to paycheck. Better to have a use-it-or-lose-it policy for sick time. I will go so far as to say that encashment of unused sick time puts other staff at risk of catching something.

Please comment and tell me I’m wrong. I want to learn why, during a pandemic, people who may need cash are given cash if they come to the office when they are sick.

Disclaimer–I am not saying this policy or that policy is correct, incorrect, right or wrong. Reward issues are rarely black and white. I am teaching here. Are you really thinking about your practices, or just following the herd? No one ever got in trouble for doing what everyone else does. But following the herd isn’t a strategy. Just saying.

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