Sick leave Abuse: Control it and how?

sick leave, sick leave abuse, employee absence, absence control, hr, human resources, people management, employee management, employee engagement, loyalty

“Trust is earned, respect is given, and loyalty is demonstrated. Betrayal of any one of those is to lose all three.”
― Ziad K. Abdelnour

One of the main challenges in large companies, predominantly in manufacturing and telco/call center industries, which often need large amount of staff is the abuse of sick leave in general. This is also a very interesting topic because it usually makes HR professionals careful and methodical as it requires social finesse and knowledge of law which can’t be bypassed. At one hand, you have to be sure to not infringe upon the employee’s human rights and at the other you have to make sure that the human capital in the company is used at an effective level (if in governance). This almost always gives HR professionals a good dose of headache because the labor law mainly protects the employee (at least in the county I reside in) as opposed to equally protect both employee and the employer. In this article we will discuss how we can approach a seemingly abusive employee when it comes to sick leave as well as why it’s important to decrease as many such cases as possible in any company. This is far easier said than done and at the same time not tackled enough to even remotely mirror its importance on the large scale. Let’s dive in.

sick leave, sick leave abuse, employee absence, absence control, hr, human resources, people management, employee management, employee engagement, loyalty
Trust me at face value – Yeah, nah

Why this is important business-wise

In last couple of articles we discussed how calculation of hours worked is important to know how much a company’s cost is in relation to earnings from the end productivity. Sick leave directly impacts the productivity and labor costs because the company is paying the percentage of the working day/hours but doesn’t get any productivity in return. The more sick leave is present amongst the staff, the more cost without return is naturally ramped up and this obviously isn’t good financially. It’s important to note that sick leave as occurrence will always be present because we’re obviously dealing with people so companies do have that cost in mind whenever they’re preparing a budget and thus making the goal here to decrease that occurrence as much as possible.

How to passively try and decrease it

There are couple of ways and activities a company can employ to affect the frequency but there’s no guarantee the change will happen. Some of the parameters which encourage less sick leave are internal policies which prohibit unauthorized absences, adherence to constant communication with the line manager to ensure whereabouts at all times and HR’s constant monitoring of sick leave durations and patterns on an individual level. The third one is more of an active parameter and thus the most effective in which we will lean into in a bit. A company can affect this more in a cultural way than anything else so it’s all based on attitude and viewpoint towards work in general. Some companies also use monetary incentives in which they award employees who are as less absent (sick) as possible. Sounds like it’s a thing to control but it’s more openly geared towards employees who misuse it deliberately but still the company with limited resources cannot do much because workforce is needed at the end of the day.

sick leave, sick leave abuse, employee absence, absence control, hr, human resources, people management, employee management, employee engagement, loyalty
Sick or just playing games?

How to actively decrease it (some risks may be involved)

As previously mentioned, active pursue of eliminating sick leave absences might step into some gray area of what is lawful, ethical or professional, depending on what labor law allows in a country. Social intelligence and high levels of communication play a huge role in how the outcome of these situations paints itself. The country where I reside in has a few options employers can use to shield themselves from exploitations of the system. Health care system is designed as such that the government pays a percentage of the total salary while being in the sick status. This tells you how motivated employees can be to falsify or exploit the health care system and at the same time labor law protecting them from employers canceling their contracts while being „sick“. To mitigate this, employers can call the doctors and have a conversation with them about their patient, albeit it quite limited. Doctors aren’t at liberty to talk about the details but if employers have any doubt about their practice, an audit can be sent to them to check for any „anomalies“. The same can be directly done to employees themselves. If there is a legitimate reason to suspect the abuse of the system, a personal audit can be sent to employees. Another risk and a heavy toll for HR is the legal part of these activities which can become quite troublesome if the employee in question isn’t particularly cooperative. Canceling the contract can be tricky if the employee is unwilling (again this depends on the country and their labor law) but communication plays a huge role, as mentioned. It’s always beneficial to find a mutual agreement and the cancelation of the contract is calm, ethical and professional.


This topic is one of the top headache givers for HR and business in general. No wonder since we’re dealing with people and that’s always complex. Sick leave presents a challenge in many ways, from potential huge costs to legal risks and how we approach these situations is of most importance here. To mitigate it in the most effective way, it’s advisable that HR deals with this on a daily basis in a detailed, specific and individual manner lest suffering the hard-to-deal with consequences. It’s also crucial that HR is able to recognize the legitimate from exploitative and then act accordingly. This has always been a difficult activity in any company and probably will be, but a solution to this, while not end all be all, is here and companies should use it.

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