Federal Coach

By Tom Fox, VP for Leadership and Innovation, Partnership for Public Service

Blog archive

Federal Coach: Sick of unclear sick-leave policies?

(Fox's Federal Coach column was originally published on The Washington Post On Leadership site.)

This week’s question comes from a congressional staffer who’s frustrated by the unclear policies around sick leave and vacation days.

I work on the Hill so the rules on sick days and vacation days may be different from the rest of the known universe. Despite asking our chief of staff in the beginning of the year about sick days and vacation days, we never received a specific number of days we were allocated.

Recently, we were asked to submit the number of sick and vacation days we've taken. We have one employee who, for about two to three months, was leaving early two or three times a week with food-poisoning-like symptoms. She decided that all of the times she left early would equal one sick day. Her argument is that she continued to work while at home.

I have taken three sick days. However, I worked via Blackberry and my personal computer, took phone calls, and performed work functions while at home on those days. Is it fair that I am expected to count my days as full days despite working from home? Should I expect that I can "roll" those days into one like my colleague since there were never guidelines for the office? -A frustrated Congressional staffer

To start, I suggest having a conversation with your chief of staff. Without implicating your colleague, ask for clarity around your office’s sick-day policy given that you’re spending some portion of that time working. As a reminder, Congress sets its own rules and does not follow the same regulations as the executive branch when it comes to leave.

You raise an important question, and one that is likely to come up more frequently as all branches of government expand their use of telework, flex time and technology.

For federal employees, there is no set of written regulations that covers all scenarios regarding leave. It’s up to federal supervisors to provide their employees with guidance and clarity around the use of sick and vacation leave.

As a supervisor, it’s important that you set clear rules and expectations with your employees from day one about your policy regarding leave. By not doing so, you can create an environment of uncertainty and frustration similar to the situation described by this congressional staffer.

I suggest federal managers use critical events throughout the year as a natural way of offering refreshers. For example, when the cold season hits their office and virtually everyone misses at least one day, federal leaders can use their weekly team meeting to provide a refresher on the best way for their employees to account for their sick leave.

Whether you’re a frustrated employee or a manager, it’s important that you open the lines of communication around your office’s leave policy.

Posted by Tom Fox, VP for Leadership and Innovation, Partnership for Public Service on Jul 15, 2011 at 4:02 PM


Reader comments

Sat, Jul 30, 2011

Its a slippery slope when supervisors or non-supervisors begin to mix work on days at home where they are on either annual or sick leave. When I am on annual leave, that is my personal time, and when I am on sick leave, I'm home because I am sick. Its pretty clear cut, just don't turn on your blackberries or computers to do work on leave days, otherwise, it becomes a blend of telework and leave. The only exception would be where it makes sense (e.g., doctor appointment, a home repair, etc). to be on leave for part of the day and telework for part of the day, with explicit prior approval.

Sat, Jul 30, 2011 Cliff69 Washington, DC

Does anyone see the irony here of the staff bosses not managing consistently??? Remind you of the elected people THEY work for???

Fri, Jul 29, 2011

Our agency does not have telework and has refused to consider it. Hence, if I take leave, they'd better not call me. The service I work in has told me that since we are a service organization, the public would not be served by telework. Until there are major changes here, I don't give my agency any more time than the time I work in my duty station.

Fri, Jul 29, 2011

Can't the federal agency policy people at LEAST mandate that within one office a standard and equal treatment must apply to all? We were recently hit with a notice (verbally) that we would be put on notice if our annual leave falls below some "magic" number. Management is apparently the only ones with that secretive information because even after repeatedly being questioned management refuses to tell us what the 'magic' number is yet we can be counseled and ultimately written up when we don't even know the rules. Even though I made the point that someone with lots of sick leave and a low annual leave balance cannot be treated the same as someone with almost zero in both categories my management "claims" that they are trying to protect us from ourselves. (As if I was a first grader!). I'm older than all the individuals in my work area and I do NOT want to die with the typical rolled 240 hours. I want to enjoy and fully expend my annual leave balance before I die. It doesn't do anyone (except my heirs) any good for me to be so proud that I have use or lose. It's a typical management day at the office. Managers don't have enough to do (or don't do what they should be doing) so they try to "manage" their employees by being time clocks that watch every ticking minute to make sure we don't come in one minute late, take one minute extra at lunch or go home one minute early. Oh and only for certain people this occurs. I recommended the use of a time clock (punch) that would solve all the problems and even volunteered to pitch in to purchase it but they like being clock watchers and micromanagers. I'm trying desperately to get out of this ridiculous place!

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