Basic Training for New Supervisors

Module: Policy

Topic: Leave Administration



Supervisor’s Role

Critical information


What do you think? Case studies

What should you do? Scenarios

Further study



Supervisor’s Role

The supervisor is responsible for ensuring that work activities are completed and that the work unit/work area has adequate coverage.


It is essential that the supervisor monitor employee leave balances, manage employee time off, and see that employees work their required hours, use their leave appropriately, and record leave accurately.



Leave can be a major work/family benefit and an excellent employee retention tool.


But administering leave fairly can be tricky: the supervisor may feel that he or she is walking a tightrope between the needs of the work unit and the needs of the individual employees. 



(Graphic: man walking tightrope.) Consider the example of the hospital shift supervisor facing an oncoming snowstorm. He MUST have unit coverage to ensure good patient care, but his employees, afraid of being stranded at the hospital, want to get home to tend to their own families.



Critical Information


Leave abuse has serious consequences for a work unit.  It can:


·       Affect morale, as staff feel they're being asked to take on more than their fair share


·       Hurt productivity, as the absent employee's work is not being done. Or: when the employee returns to work much time is spent 'catching up'.


·       Cost the organization money due to salary overpayments caused by negative leave balances, or when an employee leaves employment owing the agency money, or when overtime/premium pay is miscalculated.



WARNING (graphic: alarm)


While employee leave can be a tricky issue, with no black-and-white dividers, there are some warning signs:

·       Patterns: employee always calls in sick on Monday, Friday, the day before or after a holiday, or is frequently absent only during hunting season.

·       Employee habitually calls in sick after requests for vacation leave have been denied.

·       Employee frequently uses 1 or 2 days for miscellaneous small physical complaints.

·       Employee regularly takes leave as soon as it’s earned

·       Negative or zero leave balances

·       Employee is chronically tardy

·       Chronic instances of extended breaks and lunch periods

·       Time sheet errors are frequent






Leave abuse can also adversely affect the individual: excessive absenteeism hurts his or her job performance, leaves critical work undone, can leave the work unit understaffed, and affects relationships with coworkers.


A negative leave balance can jeopardize the employee’s health insurance benefits, affect calculation of time for creditable service, and create a great deal of work for the agency human resources/payroll office.


Supervisor secret


Leave abuse/tardiness/absenteeism is often the first sign of an employee headed for trouble. An absent employee cannot do her work, so productivity falls, leading to other performance problems. Or an employee’s willingness to miss so much work may indicate a lack of interest in the job, poor motivation or burnout.  Behaviors in addition to the time problem might point to a substance abuse or other personal problem.


Give special attention to probationary or new employees who miss work. Express management’s concern over the seriousness of missing work at such an early stage in the employment relationship.



Supervisor secret


Dealing with an employee leave problem is often ‘slippery’.  The employee exhibits difficulty, the supervisor coaches for improvement, the employee corrects it for months at a time, then the problem creeps up again. The supervisor in such a case may find herself providing repeated counseling and coaching sessions over a long period of time.


Supervisor secret

Leave abuse problems are often ‘contagious’.  Often once one employee starts taking long lunches, or coming in 10 or 15 minutes late each morning,  or slipping out early each day, then others may follow suit. It is important that you act on leave problems when they surface.





Graphic: photo of Barney Fife from the Andy Griffith show. Click on the 'play button below to hear audio clip, or scroll down for text.


Audio clip says, “Nip it in the bud!”


In approaching an employee leave abuse problem the supervisor must deal with each case individually, with particular facts and circumstances carefully considered and evaluated.



The supervisor needs to use discretion, judgment, and common sense



·       The effect of the problem on the individual performer

·       The effect on the work unit: disruptions in work schedules, overtime costs, incomplete projects, missed deadlines

·       Frequency of/reasons for absences (casual, intermittent absences are not the same as chronic long-term illnesses or disabilities)

·       ALWAYS ask; don’t assume! 



Reducing absenteeism


Why are they absent?


 Family/personal demands? Work with employees to help them get the time they need to deal with personal issues without adversely affecting the work unit.


Unhappiness with supervisor or conflicts with coworkers?

Work to develop stronger relationships with your staff and better interpersonal relationships among coworkers.


Uncomfortable or unsafe working conditions?

Monitor the worksite and seek to improve conditions where possible.



Educate employees as to the effect on the work and other people when someone is absent

Help individual employees see that they are important and valuable to the bigger organization

Allow employees to participate in decision making whenever possible

Take care in hiring to assure a good match of employee to job; placing employees in jobs for which they are ill-suited leads to dissatisfaction and frustration


Case studies

What do you think?

Marilyn has over 20 years of State service. She's never been out for any extended period of time, such as surgery, maternity leave or caring for a parent. Yet she is continually in the hole on her sick leave balance. She frequently calls in sick, has many unplanned absences, and gives vague reasons for being out.


Marilyn's absences are increasingly causing problems. With staff cutbacks and hiring freezes the work is already understaffed and other employees are complaining about overwork and burnout.


Marilyn's supervisor, Karen, has had many conversations with Marilyn. She has explained the importance of Marilyn's role and the burden it places on other staff when Marilyn is not at work.


Their last meeting was a documented counseling session. Karen told

Marilyn that the situation must improve, that Marilyn can no longer

take unauthorized, unplanned leave, and that from now on Marilyn must

bring in doctor's notes to account for any sick time taken.


Marilyn goes to Karen's boss and the agency Employee Relations officer claiming that Karen is discriminating against her because she is of a different race.




Result: Marilyn

Karen's diligence in record keeping really paid off. She was able to provide thorough documentation of Marilyn's absences and the problems they caused as well as detailed notes of their many meetings. Karen additionally showed that in the past she handled a similar problem with another employee in exactly the same way.


Marilyn dropped her discrimination charge. While her attendance record was never exemplary, she did bring her unplanned absences up to an acceptable level and did not fall below a zero sick leave balance again.



What should you do? 1


Jessica  is late, late, late. She has been counseled repeatedly for her unplanned absences and tardiness.  Three weeks ago she was asked to sign and date a document outlining her work schedule; she agreed to adhere to this schedule and to always call in as soon as she knew she would be late for work.


This morning she showed up for work 2 hours late. When you asked her about her tardiness she said she had a flat tire and tried to call but could not get through. The receptionist reports that she has been at her desk all morning and there has been no problem with the main phone line. There is no message from Jessica on your office voice mail.


What should you do?


Answer:   The problem is not improving. Jessica has been given more than ample opportunity to correct the situation. It may be time to start formal action. Talk with your manager and your HR office about next steps, and be sure to continue documenting facts about the issue.



What should you do? 2


Your job requires that you make frequent site and office visits outside of your own work area. You cannot be there to supervise your staff every moment. 


You have been getting more and more reports that one of your employees, Rodney, is developing some poor work habits in terms of his schedule. It seems that Rodney is habitually taking long lunches, frequently leaves to 'run an errand', often comes in a few minutes late or leaves early, and is occasionally missing from his worksite without explanation. This is never noted on his timesheet.

What should you do?



Answer: The employee, intentionally or not, is falsifying his time sheet. Explain to Rodney that he agreed to work a certain schedule and is obligated to stick to that.  Explain the effect his absence has on the work unit or  his productivity.  Clarify with the employee how to document leave use appropriately on the time sheet.  You may need to find a way to monitor the employee more closely or have the employee report in more frequently.


Further study

State policy on leave



State agencies differ in specifics of policies and practices. Be sure to check with your manager or Human Resources office for additional leave information specific to your work unit.


Next topic: Hiring

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