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How to Set Reasonable Call-In Rules for Absences

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Firing,FMLA Guidelines,HR Management,Human Resources

For many employers, absenteeism is a constant problem. You know you must give employees some slack, especially for family and medical emergencies and to accommodate disabilities that sometimes flare up.

But, to make sure the work gets done, you need to know who’s going to show up and who isn’t.

Use these common-sense rules in creating an effective call-in procedure that passes legal muster with the FMLA and the ADA:

  • Require employees who know they’ll miss a shift to call a supervisor within a certain window (say, before or shortly after their shift starts, depending on your operational needs). For example, a school district or health care facility may need more notice than a grocery store simply because of the nature of its business.
  • Decide whether to allow voice-mail messages or require that employees speak directly with a supervisor.
  • Set punishment for violating call-in rules, but allow leeway for true emergencies such as accidents. Remember, the FMLA requires employees to notify their employers “as soon as practicable” of their need for leave in an emergency or for an unforeseen serious health condition.

Recent case: Geico Insurance fired Christopher McCoy, a customer service rep, after he repeatedly failed to follow directions for calling in sick. McCoy claimed he sometimes couldn’t work because of migraine headaches.

Geico’s policy required employees to call a supervisor directly within 30 minutes of the start of a missed shift. Apparently, McCoy chronically called in and left a voice-mail message instead. Geico gave him several warnings about disciplinary action before firing him.

McCoy sued for alleged disability discrimination. But the court rejected his claim, explaining that Geico’s rule was reasonable and McCoy never said the migraines prevented him from directly calling his supervisor. (McCoy v. Geico General Insurance, MD FL, 2007)

Final note: Remember to apply the rules uniformly. You can’t insist that a disabled employee follow the letter of a rule while allowing others to skirt it.  

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