Skip to main content

Employee Absenteeism: Attendance Policy Development and Enforcement – Part 2

By April 9, 2022May 11th, 2022No Comments

Absenteeism continues to be an ongoing issue for organizations. It’s an age-old issue that has gotten more complex with the expansion of local, state, and federal leave laws, the ADA, and the pandemic.

Below are some things to consider when communicating and enforcing an attendance policy:

Decide how much is too much

When developing an attendance policy, consider how many absences an employee can have before there is an issue, and determine when tardiness becomes a problem. This will likely vary between employers. Some organizations (or departments within an organization) may give their employees a window of time around the official start of their shift. In contrast, others need their employees to be ready to start work at a set time.

  1. Open lines of communication – Create a simple system and transparent policy for employees to communicate possible absences. Decide whom employees need to contact if they expect to be late, need a day off, want to trade shifts, or leave work early. Having open and clear lines of communication and policies helps prevent no-call-no-shows and helps management avoid possible staffing issues associated with an unexpected absence.
  2. Share and post the policy – Ensure the attendance policy and expectations are included in the employee handbook. Consider posting it in a high-traffic location such as your break room, conference room, or area that employees frequent often. Not all programs or departments have issues with absenteeism; however, reminding employees of the organization’s policies can help to maintain your high standards.
  3. Track attendance problems consistently – Create a system for tracking employee attendance issues. Having a clear record of employee behavior is a useful tool when addressing absenteeism. Calendars and a spreadsheet can be helpful instruments in tracking absenteeism and maintaining an awareness within an organization.
  4. Determine levels of action – Decide on a steady and consistent system that can be used to enforce your policies. Firing someone the first time they are late is extreme in most circumstances. We recommend starting with a verbal warning, then progressing, if needed, to a written notice if they are late again, then moving to an action plan after additional offenses, and finally, if required, termination of employment.
  5. Enforce your rules consistently – Apply the policy consistently once it has been developed and put in place. We all know and should acknowledge that employees have different life circumstances that could impact their attendance. While it’s essential to be compassionate when enforcing the organization’s attendance policy, inconsistency can often lead to claims of favoritism and discrimination, and may make other employees feel discouraged, unappreciated, or angry.

Address the issues

What are the steps to follow if an employee has developed chronic attendance issues? Below are some steps to confront and deal with the absenteeism appropriately, professionally, and consistently:

  1. Sit down and discuss the root cause – Before jumping into the discipline process, talk with the employee about being absent. Find a safe place to sit down with them and ask why they have been calling in or showing up late to work. The employee may be struggling with personal issues that they hadn’t previously shared. You may learn relevant information that can assist you in your decision-making process. The employee may be absent due to a disability or health reasons, so don’t immediately jump to the conclusion that they’re simply trying to avoid work. They could also be facing harassment or bullying in the workplace, or feel overwhelmed or burnt out, leading them to take days off due to stress. It’s vital when having this conversation to listen and be empathetic, and also respectful of the employee’s privacy and situation. The conversation will be more productive if there is a working relationship built on mutual respect and trust.
  2. Have the policy in hand – When talking with an employee, ensure the supervisor has a copy of the policy in hand to speak directly about their behavior in comparison to the policy and the expectations they agreed to when they accepted their position. When employees are provided with an objective basis for concern, it can help them gain a valuable perspective on how their absences impact their fellow employees and show that they are held to the same standards as other staff.
  3. Provide helpful resources and tools – Once it is understood why an employee has been having attendance issues, make sure they are provided with tools and resources that could help them correct the problem at hand.
    • A few possible examples:
      • Refer them to a counselor through your Employee Assistance Plan (EAP),
      • Help them find reliable transportation,
      • Depending on what is discovered in your sit-down with your employee, an interactive conversation around a possible reasonable ADA accommodation could be needed. That may include information about your organization’s work-from-home policy or wellness program.
  1. Create a plan for correction and improvement – Set a clear timeframe and steps for corrective action with the employee. Work together to create a plan to track their attendance and discuss what next steps would be taken if their absenteeism continues. The next step may include checking in with their direct manager at certain times throughout the day or going over their work schedule at the start of each workweek.
  2. Calendar future check-ins – Set up regular one-on-ones to check their progress and to ensure that the cause of their absenteeism is being addressed and resolved. By having those regular, scheduled check-ins, the employee may be more likely to be more thoughtful of their absences.
  3. When necessary, follow through on your absenteeism policy – If an employee continues to be late or absent from work, follow your policy and procedures by moving to a formal warning with HR. This formal warning must outline the next step in the escalation process, including placing them on a traditional corrective action plan or possibly even termination of employment. Ensure a signed copy of the improvement plan is given to the employee and keep the original signed formal warning in the employee’s file to protect the organization against possible wrongful termination claims.

501 members and 501(c) HR Services subscribers have unlimited access to HR Services. Contact us anytime regarding absenteeism, need a sample policy or procedure, or any other HR situations.

The information contained in this article is not a substitute for legal advice or counsel and has been pulled from multiple sources.

501c Services newsletter sign up - popup graphic envelope letter

Keep up with
the news

Subscribe to our monthly newsletter for timely updates, news, and events.