Schools in Jefferson County Kentucky were closed yesterday because a third of the teachers had called out sick, according to a news report. This was the fifth day in the past two weeks that schools were closed due to widespread teacher absences.
With such repeated widespread absences, one might think health officials would be concerned about an epidemic. Not so in Jefferson County. Rather, the teachers have weaponized sick days by coordinating sickouts to protest some bills pending in the legislature. Somehow, the mantra that employees should not have to choose between a paycheck and their health does not seem to fit.
While Kentucky does not have a PSL law, such laws facilitate using sick days as a protest vehicle. Under every state and local PSL law, an employee need only report that he or she will not be at work due to illness. An employer cannot require medical substantiation that sick leave is being used for its intended purpose unless an employee calls out sick on at least three (and sometimes more) consecutive workdays. Intermittent protests, such as those in Jefferson County, easily negate that medical substantiation provision as a useful tool.
In PSL laws, not enough legislative ink has been spent addressing abuse of sick days. A provision allowing an employer to require medical documentation when it has cause to believe an employee is not using PSL for its intended purpose—regardless of the number of sick days the employee has used–is a good start.
Such a provision would recognize that sick day fraud is a fact of workplace life, would give an employer a tool to deal with it and would add to the overall integrity of a PSL law, unless PSL proponents also believe that no one should be forced to choose between a paycheck and a protest..