Rx for Too Much Sick Leave?

B&G readers weigh in on whether requiring doctors' notes will cut down on absenteeism.

Not long ago, the B&G Report featured an item about the Cleveland fire department's request for doctors' notes from employees who left work part of the way through the day. We wondered at the time about the efficiency of requiring employees to visit a doctor to receive proof that they were sick. The bulk of the responses we recevied from readers were in favor of asking for doctors' notes. Here, a sampling:

"Sick leave is grossly abused. In fact, most employees now believe sick leave is a 'right' and nearly identical to vacation leave. Many employees manage their sick leave allocations in the same way they manage their vacation time. [Regarding doctors' notes to cut down on inappropriate sick leave], in my area, the union employee pool has a list of doctors who are very sympathetic to union labor and will just about write any note."

--John Radford, retired state controller, Ore.

"The advantage of this type of policy in my opinion is employees are protected when there are questions about illness. Evaluators would not make arbitrary comments on performance appraisals regarding time taken off or have opportunity to make assumptions on evaluations because both parties would have documentation. Frequently, employees are harassed about taking time off on Mondays or Fridays or having a specific pattern. Certainly, the individuals can get a doctor's note to legitimize being absent, however, this is not my focus. But, for a legitimate illness that only requires a note after two or three days, there is a faith in a system and policy that breeds arbitrariness of opinion being inserted of legitimacy when a note is not used.

"My thoughts are with the policy of requiring a note, there is some protection in it for the employee. However, I do agree that if there are increased visits to get to the doctor for one day versus having no note, this could have an impact on increased costs for health coverage and increased costs for the employee to pay co-payments for the doctor's visit and higher for emergency room visits. Sadly, this assertion makes a huge presumption that all employees (for the city) have health coverage and/or cash to assume the costs. In many cities, if the contribution by the employee is too high, the employee may opt out of coverage. "

--Joyce L. Davis, policy analyst, Richmond, Va., City Council

"The municipality may well see an increase in health care costs of every employee that requires a doctor's note .... Invariably, there will very likely be a reduction in the number of employees taking days off by just calling in if they have to convince a doctor that they are actually ill. I have polled my employees over the years and I kept hearing the same issue; once they removed health incentive, which was a program where employees could receive reimbursement for their sick days when they retired, many employees viewed sick days as additional vacation days, to be used as they saw fit or needed a day off from work.

--Timothy L. Libby, assistant director for housing and community development, Lawton, Okla.

"It's an ... added expense for an employee to pay the co-pay. It's a tool though for management and one that is needed with some employees who abuse their sick leave benefits. With minimum staffing requirements for fire departments, absences mean overtime. We try a combined approach of incentives and disincentives. For good attendance at the end of the year we will buy back a certain number of sick days. A doctor's note is required after a certain number of sick days used."

--Georgia L. Ragland, assistant chief administrative officer, Kirkwood, Mo.

"I worked with a guy for twenty-some years that never took a day of sick leave. [Because he came in even when he was sick,] he was the cause of numerous 'epidemics' that resulted in much more sick leave being used than should have been necessary. For a while I worked at a place that required a doctor's note for any sick time used. That lasted for less than a year before management came to the union to renegotiate for a doctor's note after three days. I am in management now and tell people that if you are sick, stay away. Nobody wants what you have."

--Local employee, Kansas

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