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December 22, 2022

Establishing an Effective Sick Leave Policy for Employees

Artemis Health

If you’ve experienced a runny nose or fever in the 2022/2023 season, you’re not alone. Due to viral infections—Flu, RSV, COVID-19, and the common cold—that are spreading like wildfire this year, kids and parents alike are having to miss school and work. If parents aren’t sick themselves, many are having to skip work to care for their child. In fact, over 100,000 Americans missed work in October 2022 because of childcare issues. That’s a new record, surpassing the data collected at the height of the pandemic, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Our book of business confirms this trend with members taking leave per 1k eligible members growing from 0.1 in 2015 to 1.3 in 2022 along with the considerable jump (+16.2%) in people taking medical leave from 2019 to 2020.

At Artemis Health, we believe that establishing an effective sick leave policy for employees is crucial for the well-being of both the individual employee and the overall business. It allows employees to take time off work when they are feeling ill or need to care for a family member, while also ensuring that the business can continue to function smoothly. We will discuss the benefits of having a sick leave policy, the key components of an effective policy, and tips for implementing and communicating the policy to employees.

Benefits of a Sick Leave Policy

Having a sick leave policy in place greatly benefits both the employee and the employer. For employees, a sick leave policy provides assurance that they will not lose their job or face disciplinary action if they need to take time off work due to illness or to care for a family member. This can reduce stress and anxiety for employees, as they do not have to worry about financial consequences or job security while they are recovering.

A sick leave policy can also benefit the employer. When employees can take time off work, it prevents the spread of illness in the workplace. In turn, this can reduce absenteeism and increase productivity, as employees who are feeling well are more likely to focus on their work. In addition, having a sick leave policy in place can improve employee retention, as employees are more likely to stay with an employer that values their well-being and allows them to take time off when needed.

10 Key Components of an Effective Sick Leave Policy

When establishing a sick leave policy for your business, consider these components: 

  1. Eligibility: Determine which employees are eligible for sick leave and whether any requirements need to be met before an employee is eligible. For example, you may require that an employee has been with the company for a certain amount of time before they are eligible for sick leave.
  1. Accrual: Decide how sick leave will be accrued and whether it will be paid or unpaid. You could allow employees to accrue a certain number of sick leave days each year, or you could offer a set amount of sick leave days upfront.
  1. Usage: Determine how and when employees can use their sick leave. For example, you may allow employees to use sick leave for their own illness, to care for a family member, or for other medical appointments. Our book of business shows that age plays a factor in the type of leave taken. For example, workers between the ages of 32-35 take a variety of leave at higher rates than other ages where as employees on medical leave are most prevalent in ages ~48-56.
  1. Documentation: Establish a process for employees to request and document sick leave. This could include a form that employees need to fill out and submit to request sick leave or a process for employees to report their absence through a leave management system. Whatever method you choose, be clear about your expectations.
  1. Carryover: Decide whether employees will be allowed to carry over unused sick leave from one year to the next or whether it will be forfeited if not used.
  1. Substitution: Determine whether employees can use other forms of leave, such as vacation time or personal days, to cover sick leave.
  1. Medical Certification: You may want to require employees to provide medical certification in certain circumstances, such as when they are taking extended sick leave or when they are absent due to a serious medical condition. This can help to ensure that the leave is being used appropriately and can provide documentation if needed for any legal or compliance purposes. Our book of business points to January and the start of the year as being the highest point for employees on medical leave and August leading into the school year as the highest time of the year for leave to care for children. Both of these seasons tend to be hectic so if you do require certification for minor absences by sure to make this clear upfront so that employees do not have to backtrack to get the required paperwork on top of caring for themselves and loved ones.
  1. Reinstatement: Consider whether employees will be guaranteed their same position or pay rate upon returning from sick leave or whether certain circumstances call for an employee demotion or pay reduction.
  1. Confidentiality: Establish policies and procedures for maintaining the confidentiality of employee medical information under relevant laws and regulations. This can include requirements for obtaining employee consent before sharing medical information with third parties, such as a healthcare provider.
  1. Accommodations for Disabilities: If an employee has a disability that requires accommodations, such as extended sick leave or the ability to work remotely, consider whether these accommodations will be provided under the sick leave policy or if separate policies or procedures apply.

7 Tips for Implementing and Communicating a Sick Leave Policy

Once you have established your sick leave policy, it is vital to communicate it clearly to your employees. Here are some tips for implementing and communicating your policy:

  1. Make the Policy Accessible: Ensure that your sick leave policy is easily accessible to all employees. This could include posting it on your company's intranet or handbook or providing copies to employees upon hire.
  1. Train Managers: Make sure that your managers are familiar with the sick leave policy and know how to handle requests for sick leave. This will help to ensure that the policy is consistently applied across the organization.
  1. Encourage Employees to Use Sick Leave: Employees should know that taking advantage of the sick leave policy when they are not feeling well is encouraged. That’s where good management comes in. More often than not, “sick days” go unused due to fear of judgment or the appearance of laziness. Remind employees that this helps to prevent the spread of sickness and keeps your office safe. It’s a good thing.
  1. Be Flexible: Consider the unique needs and circumstances of your employees when it comes to sick leave. For example, you may want to allow employees to work remotely or take leave on an as-needed basis rather than requiring them to use a certain number of sick days each year. Our book of business data showed that female members are more likely to take leave for Employee Medical, Family Medical, Other, and Sick Child where males more likely to take leave for Adoption/Foster Care, Education, Military, and Paternity. Having policies that meet the unique needs of your members can help all employees feel supported and welcomed in your workforce.
  1. Communicate Clearly: Clearly communicate the details of your sick leave policy to employees, including how it works, how to request leave, and any documentation or approval processes that are required.
  1. Encourage Prevention: Consider offering resources or incentives to encourage employees to prioritize their health and well-being, such as access to on-site flu shots or wellness programs.
  1. Emphasize the Importance of Self-Care: Encourage employees to prioritize their health and well-being by taking sick leave when needed. Remind them that it is necessary to rest and recover when feeling ill and that doing so can actually help them to be more productive in the long run. By fostering a culture of self-care and wellness, businesses can help to reduce absenteeism and increase productivity.

A Quick Recap

As we’ve said, establishing an effective sick leave policy is imperative for the well-being of both employees and the business as a whole. By offering a policy that allows employees to take time off when needed, businesses can reduce absenteeism, increase productivity, and improve employee retention.

In short, remember to consider eligibility, accrual, usage, documentation, carryover, substitution, medical certification, reinstatement, confidentiality, and accommodations when establishing your sick leave policy. To effectively implement and communicate the policy, make it accessible to employees, train managers properly, and encourage employees to use sick leave when needed. By taking these steps, businesses can create a supportive and healthy work environment for their employees.

Improve Employee Benefits with Artemis Health

As a benefits professional, you understand the challenges employees face when it comes to navigating the healthcare system. You are also likely a known resource for employees dealing with chronic disease or other medical needs. At Artemis Health, we share your commitment to the health and well-being of employees and their families.

Make your job easier with Artemis Health. You are dedicated to improving the health and well-being of your employees. That's why we offer the tools and resources you need to enhance your benefits offerings, refine your strategy, and advocate for new programs for your employees. With Artemis Health, you can make your job easier while also supporting the health and well-being of your team.
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