Frequent absences because of health

Q and A

Q and A / HELP WANTED

March 16, 2005

Q: How do you tactfully handle discipline problems? A staff member has health problems, but then is absent every other day. How do you handle this, but still be sensitive?

J.B., Philadelphia

A: Two laws may be relevant. One is the Family and Medical Leave Act, which covers employers with 50 or more workers, and entitles an employee to 12 workweeks of unpaid leave for a "serious health condition." The 12 weeks can be taken as "intermittent leave" for periods as short as a day, or even an hour. The law says that employers can demand a note from a worker's doctor or other health care provider to prove their illness. Another law is the Americans with Disabilities Act, which requires employers to make reasonable accommodations to a qualified disabled employee.

MICHAEL HAYES associate professor of law

Have a discussion with the employee and express your concerns about his or her absence. Start by explaining the situation you see ("I've noticed that you have been out 10 days this month") and ask for information. Your attitude and your approach may be different if the employee has been sick or facing a family crisis than if he or she is taking regular mental health days because of bad work habits or a dislike for the job. You won't be able to address the problem appropriately unless you find out what the problem is.

ELLEN KABCENELL WAYNE assistant professor negotiations and conflict management

Q: I recently left a position where pay periods run two weeks behind. The company I left owes me for one week's salary. The pay date has passed, and I have not received a check. I have placed phone calls and e-mails but have not received an answer as to where my last paycheck is. What are my options in pursuing this money?

L.B., Baltimore

A: Maryland's wage payment statute says that when a worker leaves, their employer is required to pay for work performed. If the employer fails to make that payment within two weeks, you can make a claim by going to court or by asking the state Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation to pursue the claim. Send a letter by certified mail, return receipt requested, that explains you have been trying to obtain your final paycheck, and that if you don't receive it within a couple of weeks, you'll pursue an action against the employer.

MICHAEL HAYES

Q: I recently retired from the federal government and have applied for several jobs. I get perplexed when they ask me to state my salary requirements. I don't have a clue what the market is for these jobs and obviously don't want to ask for too much nor do I want to cheat myself. Can you recommend how to handle this?

M.B., Pasadena

A: Learning more about the market value of your skills is important to establish a reasonable minimum salary and negotiating once an offer has been made. Salaries are likely to be negotiable if your skills are in demand. Check the U.S. Department of Labor's Web site for salary ranges for certain careers as well as professional associations. And don't forget to ask people in the field. Above all, be open to creative options. New companies that cannot offer high salaries may consider more vacation time or performance bonuses.

THOMAS C. BAILEY assistant professor applied behavioral sciences and ELLEN KABCENELL WAYNE

University of Baltimore professors answer questions from readers about workplace issues. To submit a question, send it to working@baltsun.com or Working, 501 N. Calvert St., Baltimore, Md., 21278-0001, or fax it to 410-783-2517

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