Employee abusing sick leave


We have a very important employee at our startup who has been consistently abusing sick days. Unfortunately being a small company we would have a very hard time replacing him at this point but his unhealthy lifestyle has led to him trying to call in sick 3 Fridays in a row just this month. Our policy is .5 days a month accumulated.

We follow all the normal recommendations, our employee handbook is clear what is allowed and what is acceptable, that we reserve the right to take action up to termination etc, have been documenting etc but my guess is he realizes his position and that termination is a hollow threat.

What other types of action might we take to get him to take this seriously?

Management Employees

asked Oct 1 '11 at 02:18
53 points
  • Do you have multi-types of personal paid time-off, of which "sick time" is one category? If so, what are the others? – Joseph Barisonzi 12 years ago
  • holidays (new years, presidents, memorial etc), vacations and sick. – Lloyd 12 years ago

15 Answers


An employee abusing sick leave is obviously an annoyance, but it also has many other toxic effects on the rest of your team. For example:

  • Other employees start to wonder why they aren't getting more time off
  • Other employees resent that employee for not being a team player
  • Other employees resent you for letting him get away with the abuse

One of the typical mistakes that managers make is letting the "star" of their team get away with things that they shouldn't. Whether the manager doesn't want to make the star unhappy, or whether the manager feels powerless to actually control the star, it always leads to an unhappy ending.

As you consider how to bring up this issue, you should consider your other employees as well. As a personal example:

I was one of several interns at a software company this summer, and one of the other interns on the team was constantly late and missing meetings. On top of all that, he was getting paid more than the rest of us. This caused some grumblings but we mostly kept it to ourselves.

One day, I was meeting with our manager one-on-one and she brought up the situation, asked how I felt about it and how I thought she should handle it. It caught me by surprise, but she assured me that I wasn't "tattling" on him, she just wanted to hear how I felt about it and what I thought she should do. She met with most of us and had similar conversations, and at the end of the week, it was decided that the "star" was going to be let go.

Obviously, we were interns so it wasn't like any of us had a HUGE impact on the company (ie, we were all expendable) but I thought the way that our manager handled the situation was excellent. It restored team unity and destroyed all of the toxicity and resentment that had been building.

I think your next step should be to talk about the situation one-on-one with other members of his team to gather sentiment. This isn't a situation that only affects you and him. Ultimately whatever you decide should be for the benefit of the entire team, so it's important to see how they feel.

If you find out his teammates are very frustrated by what he's doing, then he's having a negative effect on everyone and should probably be let go. If others don't seem to mind or notice, then you might want to take the issue up with him more privately.

Either way, don't make it an issue of what he should or shouldn't be doing, talk to him about how he's affecting the entire team. That should get through to him, and also restore confidence in you amongst your other employees.

answered Oct 1 '11 at 04:35
Hartley Brody
1,317 points
  • Great Answer! I'm adding this to my tool-kit. – Scott 12 years ago


Have you thought about getting out of the 'punching a time clock' mentality? If this person is important, there must be specific tasks this person should be accomplishing. If he wants to get wrecked every Thurdsay night and call off on Friday, suggest making up for it on Sunday. If they're already getting things done, get over it and drop this policy.

answered Oct 1 '11 at 06:48
Jeff O
6,169 points
  • Yeah or work 4 10 hour days or something? Definitely need to talk openly with him about it. Not even in regard to your company but just to make sure he is ok, why he can't party on fri/sat like normal people ;) – Ryan Doom 12 years ago


I was once told that the way to change the way someone behave with you is to change the way you behave with them.

In my opinion it's important to help him assess the situation, is he having a bad break? Or is he too conscious of his own importance and abusing it?

  • If he is having a bad break you might want to offer him to take unpaid leaves (a couple of weeks or months), that will give him a chance to put himself back together, show that you care to him and over employees and test how ready your company is to deal without him. Also, there are chances that he come back fresher and more motivated.
  • If he is just abusing the situation due to an inflated ego, be firm. This cannot continue. I would still propose that he take a few days off to think about it. But be ready to end things in a courteous but definitive manner.
answered Oct 7 '11 at 13:40
Daniel Da Cunha
131 points
  • I was told you replace people, you dont try to chane them. Companies are not families, you are not responsible for making children behave as sensible persons. – Net Tecture 12 years ago
  • I thought this way for a long time, then I joined a company that works differently. Giving someone a chance to recover from a mistake is also beneficial to the company. – Daniel Da Cunha 12 years ago
  • Yes, but continous theft is not "a mistake". It is a low ethics to start and it is giong on a long time. Criminal level behavior - he can have his second chance with someone else. – Net Tecture 12 years ago
  • @NetTecture Not sure of the applicable laws since the location is not disclosed but sick leave are not necessarily paid (assuming US: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sick_leave#United_States). While the employee behavior is wrong the question is asked on what action can be taken in order to have him change his behavior. – Daniel Da Cunha 12 years ago


I think you should warm him verbally and threat him to be fired if he did not leave his sick-attitude. In the mean time, keep looking for new professionals and if your employee does not correct his attitude; spent no more time and just fire him straightaway. Otherwise, he will keep seriously affect you, your business and other employees will also receive an un-wanted encouragement to act like him.

answered Oct 1 '11 at 04:32
Usman Sarfraz
1,326 points


Talk to him.

Determine whether he cares about what you are saying or not.

If he has issues, try and help him. If he's just in a phase of his life where he's hedonistic / unhealthy and is not really a good fit for your organisation, follow the rules and let him go.
You cannot let his 'importance' dictate your company policy. It would be worse to do that than lose the productivity that you say he brings. At the same time, and if your rules allow, actively seek a replacement.

Remember you are the boss!

answered Oct 1 '11 at 05:25
121 points


First don't make any position dependent on a particular person. That is always going to backfire on you. Use him to train someone else from inside the department to do his job. This way there is redundancy in your organization. Also keep all job and current tasks documented so that it would take less work to transfer the work to the other person

I am sure your organization has disciplinary policies. If he is abusing company regulation stick to the policies and discipline him. Otherwise tardiness and absenteeism can spiral out if control. Once such a culture starts breeding it is very very difficult to get rid off.

answered Oct 1 '11 at 22:57
172 points
  • I think having position redundancy is a luxury most startups, almost by definition, cannot afford. – Tall Jeff 12 years ago
  • Redundancy doesn't mean the one of the person is staying idle. He may have a full time position as something else but still have training for both positions. Start ups need this sort of redundancy as they have few staff and cannot afford the time lost if someone suddenly quits or takes medical leave. – M.Ali 12 years ago


There is a reason for this behaviour, I would want to find the cause rather than bandaid the symptom. Do the works hours not fit his lifestyle, is he bored at work and looking for ways to skip it, etc.

At least if you know what is really going on you can make an informed decision whether to fix the problem or warn/fire him. At this stage it sounds like you would be making this decision blindly. He is a person with real stuff going on his life, it's not a machine that is playing up.

answered Oct 7 '11 at 14:44
Joel Friedlaender
5,007 points


You need to bring up your concerns very frankly with your employee. Make it clear that the abuse of sick-days will not be tolerated, and outline your recourse.

I know the position you are in, I've been there myself. But if the abuse of sick-days is impacting your business significantly, you need to send a clear message to other employees that absenteeism will not be allowed at your company. I would suggest ramping up your recruiting efforts, and terminating the employee if he/she does not correct their behavior.

Also, is the employee under a vesting schedule for their equity share? You might be able to hold this vested equity as a carrot and/or stick to correct the behavior.

answered Oct 1 '11 at 02:26
1,162 points
  • You are probably right about increasing my recruiting efforts, hoping to brainstorm some other possible recourse short of that. Making him sign written warnings doesn't seem to be worth much. – Lloyd 12 years ago
  • No it's not worth much for enforcement, but when it comes to termination, it can make the paperwork easier, and covers your butt when it comes to possible wrongful termination litigation. I always notify my employees in writing when they receive a warning. It is unlikely I'd be sued, but it's good insurance. – Bwasson 12 years ago


Seriously, why do you have to separate sick leaves? Just give them a fix total number of leaves per year. Does it really affect to you if he did not come into the office because he is sick or he just wants to take a day off?

We don't even track leaves in our company. They'll will just fire an email if they can't come. I usually oblige 95-99% of the time. Most of the time, they do it well ahead of schedule, allowing me to make some adjustments.

This arrangement works very well and it boosts morale. Having to have them lie to you about being sick produces lots of subconscious enmity.

answered Oct 1 '11 at 14:36
Heherson Tan
79 points
  • In some countries this is a regulation by law: Germany has unlimited sick leaves and a fixed amount of holiday. You can't even fire an employee who is on sick leave. Usually after three months of sick leave your money comes from the insurance. – Christian 12 years ago
  • Yes, but in germany you can demand he goes to a doctor in this case - one (special doctor) YOU name - and the doctor better tells you the employee is sick enough to not work (he can not tell you WHAT the employee has, but he can confirm the legality). if that comes off wrong, german law allows you termination without notice and court prosecution - including pressing criminal charges for fraud. Also being too sick to work chronically / long term IS a reason for dismissal accoding to german law. And the list goes on. – Net Tecture 12 years ago


My only advice would be to adjust your perspective on where and when "work" should be accomplished. Does this employee still deliver on deadlines/deliverables even in spite of his "sick" days? If so, then perhaps you are making a big deal about nothing.

The work is the important part. If you find that you need this employee in-office for meetings, questions or things of that nature then have that time blocked out for him to be in-office. Otherwise, let him manage his tasks, workload and time as he desires.

answered Oct 7 '11 at 03:39
11 points
  • Theft is not nothing. IF the employee manages all his work in les time, he is obliged by law to take more work. Not making yourself available as employer is a reason for termination without notice in all jurisdictions I know. No work ethics on your side? – Net Tecture 12 years ago


I assume if the worker is not wanting to be there, than maybe he's frustrated with the work, not feeling challanged and is generally unhappy, you, as a company manager should make sure that:

a. you're hiring motivated people, especially when the company is small and every employee is crucial to your work-flow

b. the work that you're tossing down at the employee matches his skills and challanges him enough to keep him intrested, a concept in psychology which is called flow once you took care of that on your end, you should have a sitting down with the employee and make a real & open conversation to understand his real issues, if he's lazy - definitely let him go, but it could be a variety of other reasons which you can't really tell unless you'll have an honest talk with him, at the end of the day, managers want to get the job done, and the employees want to feel that they're contributing intrinsic value to the company.

answered Oct 8 '11 at 06:35
Itai Sagi
337 points


If your employee meets the deadline and delivers work then you should just leave it. I think you are making a big deal about nothing. Maybe you should allow him to work remotely and see if the work is delivered on time. Keeping track of time in and time out does not work nowadays. Again the work and delivery is important. If others point this out- shut their voice by giving the same liberty. That will motivate others to deliver more.

answered Oct 7 '11 at 04:41
11 points
  • Ah, employees don't get paid for work, they owe their employer a certain amoutnt of time. If he finishes his work, he has to be there FOR MORE WORK. Contract law and signed contracts, you know. – Net Tecture 12 years ago


Increase his salary and give him a better position. OR Hire a talented newbie and get him accustomed to the work, which your employee is for work.

OR give your employee a good exposure by placing his name on visiting cards or anything like that, which make him thinking about giving more to your work, rather taking the other route.

answered Oct 3 '11 at 05:54
96 points


A startup with regular office hours and an employee handbook doesn't sound like much of a startup at all.

Anyway, he might just need a kick in the pants, but he may have a real medical disability that he finds embarrassing to talk about. If you fire him in a clumsy, you might face a lawsuit.

Also, do you expect him to be on-call at nights and weekends during emergencies?

answered Jul 25 '12 at 03:27
W. Matthew Wilson
104 points


Fire him. Deal with your issues. Sue him for any damage you may sustain.


This is theft - it is not "playing games", it is outright stealing. Look for a replacement, then hand him his immediate termination without notice and throw him out of the premises if you can proove it.

There is a line to cross. Steal from me and I do take action, regardless of the price.

If he is not abusing, though, thn make sure you handle him according to his importance. Getting sick on fridays, tough, smells like "long weekend sickness" which is not "unhealthy lifestyle" but "theft".

answered Oct 7 '11 at 13:50
Net Tecture
11 points

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