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Mary was furious with Paul, one of the customer service phone reps she supervised. He had called in sick again, forcing the other employees to pick up the slack. Paul was averaging one sick day every two weeks. It simply wasn't fair.

"Please get Paul on the phone for me," Mary said to one of her staff.

As she sat angrily at her desk, she thought about how she would let Paul have it for showing so little respect for his colleagues.

But then she had a sudden doubt. What, legally, could she say to Paul? Would the fact that she had called him at all mean that she was harassing him? Suppose she fired Paul, and he sued for harassment? Would she be fired-and all because she was trying to manage as effectively as she knew how?

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Many employers get caught up in a cycle of repeated attempts to reform these types. That's a mistake because the costs of employee absenteeism-reflected in lost production, overtime and temporary replacements for the absent worker-can add up quickly.

In fact, some personnel experts estimate that an absent employee costs a company 1.75 to 2.5 times his daily salary. Some large companies estimate that absenteeism may be costing them more than $500,000 per year.

How can companies combat the problem? Approaches vary, but most successful absenteeism programs include a positive discipline program.

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Because absenteeism typically comes under the "minor problem" category, the first step is a precounseling session between the individual and his supervisor. In this session the supervisor determines if the employee understands the company's policy on absences.

The positive discipline approach then consists of the following stages:

Oral reminder stage. This stage follows the counseling session and lasts three months or however long seems to be in the company's best interest. But the period has to be uniform for all employees. If you resolve the problem, the slate is wiped clean and so is the documentation of the incident.

Written reminder stage. If the problem still exists after the counseling session, a second counseling session between the employee and his supervisor is scheduled. This time, however, the supervisor writes a memo to the individual spelling out the problem, the worker's acknowledgment of it and his agreement to work toward its resolution.

A copy is placed in the employee's personnel file. The written reminder stage lasts six months, or however long you think is best for the company. If the problem is resolved within this time, the memo is considered inactive and there are no repercussions for the worker. However, don't discard the memo-keep it in the employee's personnel file.

Decision-making stage. If the absenteeism problem still exists after the written reminder stage, the supervisor has a final meeting with the employee, during which he spells out the company's policies again. Then the employee is given a one-day leave of absence to decide if he wants to continue working for the company on the condition that he agrees to abide by its rules.

Treat your employees fairly while keeping disruptive absences to a minimum. Employee Leave: Your 8 Biggest Problems Solved will give you answers to your most vexing employee leave questions, like:
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  • How do I handle leave requests for religious holidays?
  • What should we include in our vacation policy?
  • Is there a way to stop sick leave abuse?
  • Can I discipline a disabled employee for chronic absenteeism?
  • How can I best manage intermittent FMLA leave?
  • Should leave decisions be made by HR or managers?
  • PDA, ADA and pregnancy leave – what are the do’s and don’ts?
  • What are the signals that someone’s abusing workers’ comp leave?
  • And much more!

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