With summer in full swing, one federal employment law attorney is reminding federal employees to be careful not to abuse sick leave requests for summer vacation time.
John Mahoney, partner and chair of the Labor and Employment Practice Group at Tully Rinckey PLLC, reminds federal employees that they put themselves at risk of being charged with sick leave abuse if supervisors identify a trend in habitual requests for sick leave, such as calling out too often on Fridays or Mondays, or if they are seen or reported acting in a manner inconsistent with their illness claims.
Under C.F.R. Part 630.405, agencies can grant sick leave based upon an employee’s assertion that he or she is not feeling well or that he or she has an appointment with a doctor or dentist. If the sick leave lasts at least three workdays, the employee must provide medical certification or “other administratively acceptable evidence” to the agency.
An agency can demand medical certification if the employee is out on sick leave for fewer than three days, if it doubts the request’s legitimacy. A doctor’s note, however, is not a free ticket to skip work and play golf or head to the beach. Faking an illness can attract a charge of absence without leave, which can carry a penalty of being placed on leave restriction, being suspended, demoted or even fired.
Mahoney cites a 1989 MSPB case (Sadowski v Defense Logistics Agency) in which a federal employee called in sick so he could play golf. The agency demoted the employee, and the MSPB sustained the demotion, even though his doctor had provided a diagnosis of gastroenteritis. The agency had charged the employee with sick leave abuse and AWOL. The Board found the agency erred in charging both offenses; however, the AWOL charge stuck and that alone justified the demotion.
Mahoney said, “Feigning illness can be terminal to federal careers. Make no mistake: if you are called on your alleged misuse of sick time then you may already be in over your head at that point. You’ll need some help.”