Ask StratEx HR: What to Do When An Employee Lies About Being “Out Sick”

Dear StratEx HR,

brunchIt has recently come to my attention that one of our servers called in sick for her shift on Saturday. As you know, Saturdays are one of our restaurant’s busiest days. This employee claimed that she was sick; however, another server saw her out partying at brunch via her Snapchat story. The other server also stated that the Snapchat story showed the employee partaking in the use of illegal drugs. With the new sick leave laws, I cannot ask an employee for a doctor’s note and clearly she was not sick.

Can we dock this employee’s pay for the day as an unexcused absence? Can we discipline her for lying and going out to party instead of working her shift? Can I terminate her for the use of illegal drugs based on our policy? I don’t want to set the precedent for our other employees that sick time is a free for all.

Brunch So Hard

Dear Brunch So Hard,

Social media has severely changed the amount, and type, of information that we can uncover about our employees. The first thing that you should always consider in situations such as this one, is whether or not the employee was representing the company while these actions took place.

If the employee is caught drinking or doing illegal activities while on company time, either at your restaurant or out in the community, then it is within your legal right to hold that employee to all applicable policies. On the other hand, if the employee is on their own time, the company cannot manage, coach, or discipline those actions– even if we don’t agree with the behavior from the company’s moral perspective. (Please note that some policies clearly state guidelines that extend outside of the workplace, e.g. harassment. Employers can still hold employees accountable for those infractions even if they occur outside of work.) 

In addition, we never want to discipline an employee based on speculation or rumors. If you have not seen the evidence first-hand, and do not have all the facts surrounding the incident, then your best move forward is to not act in a negative way. Instead, monitor the employee’s performance in the workplace to understand whether or not her performance is being impacted or determine if a concerning pattern is developing.

If you do witness her actions first-hand via a social media platform, the best thing you can do is let the employee know that you are aware of her “unexcused absence” and reiterate the company’s policies on attendance, professionalism, zero tolerance for drugs and alcohol in the workplace, and acceptable reasons for using paid sick leave. After you’ve had this conversation with her, make sure you document everything that was communicated. As a company, you will want to determine if there is a pattern of absences developing and prove that a conversation was had with the employee about the definition of a reasonable absence, per the law.

Let the laws and company policies guide you to a strong and effective management decision. In situations like this, where you know the employee is taking advantage of a policy, determine what other policies might have been violated in the process. For example, did the employee adhere to the call in/out procedure properly?

Overall, we must remember that our employees are allowed to lead lives outside the workplace; however, if we determine they are lying, then we should use all tools available to correct the behavior and reiterate the expectations of the company. Finally, remember that being friends or following your employees on social media is always tricky and can lead to further complications in the company/employee relationship.

StratEx HR