Identifying and Addressing Sick Leave Use Trends for the Tulsa Fire Department

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By David A. Hayes

The Tulsa Fire Department is committed to providing the community with quality fire and life safety service. Recent reductions in funding were forcing the department to review department policies and procedures to seek cost saving measures. One area of concern was a perception of sick leave abuse. The problem was no effort had been made to either document or address the perceived abuse. The purpose of this research was to identify suspected patterns of inappropriate sick leave usage and develop recommendations to address the abuse.

Historical and action research, combined with a review of the available literature, were utilized to answer the following research questions: (a) what are the standards for establishing inappropriate use of sick leave by an employee of a public sector fire department, (b) how have other fire departments or agencies identified specific trends of inappropriate sick leave usage in their organizations, (c) how can patterns of inappropriate sick leave usage be identified in the attendance records of the Tulsa Fire Department, and (d) what policies or procedures have been implemented by other agencies to positively impact inappropriate sick leave usage?

The procedures included a review of the published literature addressing sick leave abuse and policy content. Additional information was obtained from Internet sites and interviews with knowledgeable individuals. An external survey was used to collect information about sick leave from fire departments similar to the Tulsa Fire Department. Finally, information learned through the literature review and the external surveys was used to evaluate the electronic leave records of the Tulsa Fire Department.

The results from the research included standards for inappropriate sick leave usage are established from the policy itself since sick leave is a benefit and not a mandated right. Results also indicate other researchers used supervisor review, internal and external surveys, and computer analysis to identify specific trends of sick leave abuse. Those identified trends were then used as a guide to evaluate the leave records for the Tulsa Fire Department. The results show Tulsa does have similar trends. Finally, the research provided suggested elements of successful sick leave policies to guide in the improvement of the department's present sick leave policy.

The recommendations from this research are (a) include the front line supervisors in the management and monitoring of the department's sick leave policy, (b) pursue acquiring a sick leave monitoring and recording system capable of providing necessary reports, (c) provide quarterly reports of sick leave usage to supervisors to increase awareness of the sick leave trends, and (d) investigate and implement incentive plans aimed at reducing specific trends of sick leave abuse.