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Chronically Absent Workers Weigh on Employers’ Productivity and Profits

Chronically Absent Workers Weigh on Employers’ Productivity and Profits

Despite the current national anxiety about the Ebola virus, I’m not afraid of it. What I am afraid of is the chocolate bundt cake that’s sitting on the table in the break room.  

As most people know, the overconsumption of cakes, cookies, candies, cupcakes and other sugary delights can make a person overweight. And being overweight can lead to all sorts of bad things in addition to obesity – such as heart disease, stroke, cancer and Type 2 diabetes.

What many people might not know is that chronic diseases and conditions such as obesity, heart disease, stroke, cancer and diabetes costs employers billions of dollars every year.      

How so? According to the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index, U.S. full-time workers who are overweight, obese or have other chronic health conditions miss a lot more work than healthy workers – an estimated 450 million additional days each year. These lost days result in more than $153 billion in lost productivity annually.

Because 133 million Americans – 45 percent of the population– have at least one chronic disease (according to the article “The Growing Crisis of Chronic Disease in the United States”), I think it’s safe to say that many employers currently are or will be affected by chronic absences that are due to the chronic illnesses of their employees.

Steps for Employers

What can employers do about chronically absent workers?

First, determine what you’re required to do. If you have at least 50 employees within a 75-mile radius, you’re required to provide Family Medical Leave Act leave to qualifying employees. This allows employees up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave because of a health condition that makes them unable to work or to perform one or more essential duties of their job.

Additionally, the Fair Employment and Housing Act requires California employers with five or more employees to provide a reasonable accommodation to employees whose illness makes the performance of a major life activity difficult. Major life activities include physical activities (breathing, walking, hearing and seeing), mental activities (thinking and communicating), social activities (interacting with others) and working. A reasonable accommodation could include some time off work; however, it wouldn’t require an infinite number of absences.

Be sure to keep detailed records of employee absences, the reasons for them and any disciplinary actions taken because of them.

— Robin Paggi

Next, if you haven’t done so already, create a policy on the use of sick leave and other leaves of absence (how leave is accrued, qualifications for use, procedures for calling in sick, possible disciplinary action if misused, etc.). And, if you already have a policy in place, be prepared to change it.

Starting July 1, 2015, most California employers will be required by law (AB 1522) to provide 24 hours of paid sick leave to most of their employees if they don’t already (employers that already provide 24 hours or more need not provide additional sick days). Additionally, all employers must comply with requirements of AB 1522 such as how an employee accrues sick leave and when they’re eligible to use it.

Distribute the policy to employees, have an open discussion about its purpose and have employees sign an acknowledgement form that they've  received it.

Once the policy is in place, be sure to consistently enforce it. Monitor absences and talk to employees who frequently call in sick to determine if a leave of absence or accommodation is necessary. If employees continue to be chronically absent despite taking state or federal mandated leaves or being reasonably accommodated, you may discipline them or even terminate them (I’d confer with an employment attorney first). Be sure to keep detailed records of employee absences, the reasons for them and any disciplinary actions taken because of them.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, chronic illnesses are among the most preventable of all health problems. So here’s a piece of advice on how to remain employed – step away from the bundt cake.      

TAGS: Health
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