Consider this scenario: An employee requests vacation time, but unfortunately you need to deny it. Then, surprisingly, the employee calls out sick for those same days you denied them as vacation. A bit suspicious, right?
Suspicious circumstances like that are not uncommon in the workplace, and many employers believe they cannot request proof or a more detailed explanation from an employee to justify the absence. Alternatively, employers may react inappropriately to absences they believe to be suspicious, demanding information they are not entitled to or disciplining the employee. This can lead to liability under human rights legislation or employment standards legislation if the absence is legitimate.
It’s important for employers to appropriately handle suspicious circumstances relating to time off. Let’s look at some conditions when you may be confronted with suspicious absences, and the strategies and practices you can use to address them.
1. Job-protected leaves
A job-protected leave is an entitlement that lets employees take a leave of absence and return to the same position. Examples may include:
- Pregnancy and parental leave;
- Compassionate care leave;
- Death or disappearance of a child leave;
- Domestic violence leave;
- Bereavement leave; or
- Sick leave.
Generally, an employee’s request to take a job-protected leave is accepted in good faith, but circumstances might make the leave request suspicious.
2. Timing of leave requests
The timing of a leave request could raise a red flag, but it still may be valid. You may want to have a close look if, for example, the request occurs immediately before or after a holiday season, during the summer months, after a vacation request has been denied, or a re-occurring time every year.
3. General medical leaves
The most common type of leave requests employers receive are medical. As an employer, you have the right and entitlement to reasonable medical documentation that clearly shows why the employee needs the time off, such as a doctor’s note. Be sure the note is not vague as to the reasons for the requested leave, which may raise a red flag. Be aware that you are limited as to what sort of information you may request from the employee.
4. Investigating suspected abuse
When you suspect an employee’s request, you should not address it while the employee is away, but either before their leave or upon their return. There are many steps involved when investigating a suspicious absence. They can include, but are not limited to:
- Requesting additional documentation to substantiate the absence. If applicable, refer to a workplace policy or legislative provision as the basis for the request.
- Giving the employee the opportunity to explain the suspicious circumstances.
- Determining the discipline if you confirm the request is unjustified.
When it comes to suspicious employee requests or absences, remember to:
- Verify the legitimacy of the request;
- Know what you can and can’t ask for from the employee; and
- Prepare to discipline the employee if your suspicion is confirmed.
Let’s look a few examples HRdownloads’ advisors can also advise and help you with.
- An employee requests four consecutive weeks of vacation and you could only approve two. The employee then provides a doctor’s note for a medical leave about the other two weeks. What can you do?
- An employee needs a three-month leave of absence for a medical treatment. Are you obligated to approve this request?
- An employee says they must leave immediately for a family emergency and don’t know when they’re return. Should you approve this short-notice request?
- An employee with no accrued vacation time asks for five weeks’ vacation and was told it would not be approved. The employee says they must go since they already paid for the trip. How should you respond?
Do you have questions about suspicious requests for time off? Live HR Advice offers unlimited on-demand phone support from our award-winning team of HR professionals, who have experience across a range of areas and industries. Whatever HR concern or problem you are facing, our advisors can tailor recommendations and strategies to your situation and workplace.
Our award-winning team of HR advisors has the depth and breadth of HR leadership experience across a range of functional areas, including talent acquisition and management, union and non-union labour relations, legislative interpretation and compliance, collective bargaining, grievance administration, attendance management, workers’ compensation, non-occupational injury and illness management, compensation and benefits, terminations, and performance management.