Employers have heard all the excuses. My alarm didn’t go off. My car broke down. My babysitter didn’t show up. I have a terrible cold. Though sometimes those excuses for being absent or late ring true, chronicand tardiness can become a major problem in the workplace, wreaking havoc on productivity as well as morale.
You would think that getting an employee to show up on time, every day, would be a simple matter. But these days, you really can’t simply say, “Be here or be fired” when an employee walks through the door late or not at all. Especially when you throw in legal factors such as the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Family and Medical Leave Act ().
For this reason, employers have to employ strategies that not only combat absenteeism, but also keep on the right side of the legal line.
Keep it legal
The following list of questions will help keep you on the right track. Add to its value by making a copy and distributing it to all decision-making supervisors.
- Do you have a clear understanding of your attendance policies?
- Do your employees understand how they are to report absences?
- Do you enforce your policies consistently?
- Do you understand and follow state and federal laws concerning absences for jury duty?
- Do you consider all the provisions of the FMLA before charging an employee with an absence?
- Do you consider religious accommodation requirements before charging employees with unexcused absences?
- Do you consider the provisions of the ADA concerning absences for drugs, alcohol or medical treatments?
- Do you review attendance records regularly to pinpoint trends?
- Do you track absences to see if they show a particular pattern, such as frequent absences on Mondays or Fridays, or the day before or after a holiday?
- Do you confront employees early when a pattern of absenteeism first develops?
- Do you spell out the penalties for absenteeism completely and ask employees if they understand them?
Do’s & don’ts of discipline
When it comes to disciplining an employee for absenteeism, there are several different strategies at your disposal. And deciding which one to take isn’t always cut and dried. You can avoid making disciplinary mistakes that could lead your company to court by checking out the following do’s and don’ts.
√ DO figure out what is an acceptable level of absences, if your organization does not specify a maximum number. Think about how many days an employee could miss without significantly sacrificing work quality.
× DON’T penalize employees who have a legal reason to be late or absent, e.g., they’re going to physical therapy or alcohol treatment, or have permission to leave early for a doctor’s appointment. The same goes for employees who have a legitimate reason to be late or absent, e.g., usingthey have earned, like personal days.
√ DO make sure you understand what’s off-limits and who gets the last word on any gray areas that may be in dispute in any policy that affects attendance.
× DON’T undermine your company’s absenteeism policy by ignoring any step that isn’t convenient. It can lead to charges that you applied the rules in an arbitrary or discriminatory manner.
√ DO recognize the difference between the employee who was out one day all year—even if you suspect it wasn’t for a good reason—and the employee who has a chronic problem. Adjust your discipline accordingly.
× DON’T get bent out of shape if an employee challenges your interpretation of any policy that deals with attendance. Work it out.
√ DO begin documenting absences as soon as you notice a trend. Record dates, hours absent, and the reason the employee gives for them.
× DON’T put employees in the impossible situation of choosing their jobs over their health or family responsibilities. That could be a violation of the FMLA.
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