The weak job market has not prevented workers from abusing their sick days. Several companies recently surveyed, found that 57 percent of U.S. salaried employees take sick days when they are not actually sick. This number is almost up 20 percent from statistics gathered between 2007 and 2009. The surprising number of sick days led companies to hire private investigative agencies to conduct surveillance on their workers. It has been estimated, from our history of sick day surveillance assignments that 80 – 85 % of all subjects followed on their, “sick days” were not actually sick.
What’s good to know is that the law is on the employers’ side. In 2008, Raybestos Products, a car parts manufacturer in Crawfordsville, Indiana, hired an off-duty police officer to track an employee suspected of abusing her paid medical leave. When the officer produced substantial evidence that the employee was exploiting her benefits, the company fired the employee who then sued Raybestos. The 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals dismissed the lawsuit and held that although surveillance is not preferred employer behavior, it is not unlawful. This case established the precedent that “reasonable suspicion” is sufficient justification for employer investigation.
In this day and age, with several legislators in Connecticut, fighting to make employers pay mandatory sick days for their employees, there will be more fraud than ever. Conducting a surveillance on your employee to ensure that their sick days are spent as sick days, will prove to be a valuable business expense. Employers, from private to municipal, are exploring the option of investigating their employees for sick day fraud.
Example, In Haverhill, Massachusetts, the mayor determined that private investigation was necessary after his multiyear effort led by the city failed to reduce overused sick time. Mayor James J. Fiorentini elected to spend $13,000 on an investigation of the local Fire Department after discovering that about 20 percent of the roughly $8 million annual fire budget goes to overtime, for staff shifts of firefighters out sick or on vacation. The investigators caught four firefighters carrying furniture, shoveling snow, attending a hockey game, and doing other activities on sick days suggesting fitness to work. Employees in other departments cut sick leave by about 1,000 days from 2005 to 2008. However, firefighters called in sick an average of 12 days each last year, more than three times as often as Haverhill’s police officers. Fiorentini said that he hopes the investigation sends a clear message to everybody that the city is serious about monitoring and controlling sick time.
In New Jersey, lawmakers decided to attack sick day abuse by declaring that no retiree will be paid more than $15,000 for unused sick time saved up during one’s career. Lawmakers hope to end terminal leave, which is when employees save up their sick days and then use them all in the final year on the job. This allows employees to draw a paycheck while enjoying a retirement lifestyle. However, state and local officials are concerned that employees will still abuse their sick days. Therefore, many companies across the nation depend on private investigators rather than lawmakers to stop the abuse.
Don’t become a statistic. Have your employees investigated today to determine if they are committing sick day fraud.