Federal Coach

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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 12:12 PM


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