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Re-examine your absence policy, paying special attention to identify clauses that attach varying conditions on whom the policy applies to and when it applies.

Plaintiffs' attorneys and courts will poke holes in inconsistent policies that punish certain employees for absences, yet let other employees skate by. A vital part of any attendance policy is to set objective discipline criteria, and then train your supervisors to never waver from it. (Keep in mind: Employees can't be disciplined for absence approved under the Family and Medical Leave Act or the Americans with Disabilities Act.)

Recent case: Joe Callahan was fired after his third unexcused absence of the year. His employer's policy called for written warnings after the first and second absences in a 12-month period, then firing after the third.

Callahan applied for unemployment benefits, but the company challenged it, arguing that he wasn't eligible because he was fired for violating company policy. A court rejected the argument and granted Callahan his benefits.

Reason: The company's absence policy was chock full of contradictions and inconsistencies. Three examples: 1) The policy said that, on a "case-by-case" basis, the company would consider certain absences as "outside" its disciplinary procedure. 2) It said "senior employees with exemplary attendance records" wouldn't be strictly held to the absence policy, yet it didn't even define the term "senior employee." 3) The policy wasn't enforced consistently; Callahan himself wasn't disciplined for prior absences that should have triggered discipline. (New England Wooden Ware Corp. v. Commissioner of the Department of Employment & Training, No. 03-P-106, Mass. App., 2004)

For a copy of our free report, How to Solve Your Absentee Problem, which includes tips for front-line supervisors, visit our new Web site, www.hrspecialist.net/handbooks.

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