Can My Employer Punish Me for Using Sick Hours?

Legally, an employer can't "punish" you for being sick.

Legally, an employer can't "punish" you for being sick.

A year doesn’t seem to go by without some sort of flu outbreak. People load up on cough drops, medicine and vitamin C, but still find themselves coughing, sneezing and sniffling, and there’s probably at least one in the office next to you. The way people show up to work while they’re still sick, you’d think there was a punishment for taking the day off. There isn’t.

Sick Time

Though there’s no law requiring employers to give employees paid sick leave, those that do must do so consistently. If, for example, your employer pays one person for a cold-related absence, she must do the same for the rest of you. So being punished for using sick hours could be considered differential treatment, and the employer is at risk of a discrimination claim.

Proof of Illness

When you do use your sick hours, it’s completely within an employer’s right to ask for proof of illness -- as long as the proof is reasonable, of course. Your employer may require that you provide a doctor’s note or call in to work each day you’re sick. This isn’t considered a “punishment.” Instead, it’s a reasonable action to ensure the sick time is being used for an illness and not for vacation.

Disciplinary Action

The only time an employer can “punish” you for using sick hours is when you abuse the sick leave policy. Some people tend to call in sick at the end of the week, while others may do it at the end of each year. Both are patterns -- either to lengthen weekends or to use all available sick hours. You may be subject to a disciplinary action and could even lose your job.

Family and Medical Leave Act

Back in 1993, the Family and Medical Leave Act was passed by Congress, stating that eligible employees are entitled to up to 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave each year. A provision of this act was that your employer cannot “fire you, deny you a promotion or take other disciplinary actions against you for using FMLA leave.” When returning from your leave, your employer must reinstate you to your position or an equivalent position with all the benefits afforded to you prior to the leave. Your employer can also get in trouble for firing you or taking disciplinary action against you if you were to report a violation of the FMLA.

 

About the Author

Based in Minneapolis, Minn., Dana Severson has been writing marketing materials for small-to-mid-sized businesses since 2005. Prior to this, Severson worked as a manager of business development for a marketing company, developing targeted marketing campaigns for Big G, Betty Crocker and Pillsbury, among others.

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