How do I deal with an employee who is always calling in sick?

Question: “One of our employees regularly calls in sick because of her child’s medical problems. She has used up all her sick time, so now we have to dock her a day’s pay. How can I get her to improve her attendance so she’s at work more? Can we fire her for poor attendance?”—L.C., New York


How many employees does your company have?

It depends if you can terminate her position or not. Does your company meet the requirements of the Family Medical Leave Act? You can find this information on the Dept. of Labor’s website for your area. They are also there to help with situations such as this.

If she qualifies under FMLA then the answer is probably “no”. If she does not qualify and her employment is excessive, sit down with her and review her file. Let her know what you expect and then point out what she’s doing and why it’s unacceptable. Be sure to document the conversation and what/if any discipline you give or will give in the future.

FMLA Compliance D

Does your company have an employee handbook? If so, what does it say? Has the rules been followed consistantly? If not, beware.

It will also help if you find out if you are in an at-will employment state where you can terminate employment for no reason. Be careful though, there are exceptions to the rule.

Have you approached her about the reason for her absentiism? Find out if the leave is protected by FMLA. If not, what is your policy for leave of absence not related to FMLA? Does the employee need one?

What is your company’s policy and procedure regarding non paid leaves, absentiism? How is the employee’s performance? How is the department coping during the absences? What is the impact upon the company and co-workers?

How have other similarly situated cases been handled? Careful with just firing because she is at-will, it may land you with a discrimination suit. Hold a conversation, address the problem with the employee.

We are not subject to FMLA (too small). We use a weighted performance evaluation, and the most heavily weighted standard is for attendance (20%, Dependability). “80% of the job is showing up as scheduled.” If you condone high absenteeism, you accept that as part of the acceptable level of performance. You tell employees it’s OK to function at less-than-acceptable levels. Chances are if their attendance affects performance that much (20%), much of the rest of their performance isn’t acceptable either. They need to find an employer better matched to their needs. As an employer, you need to stick to your P&P’s and make them stringent enough to protect your business.

We are also a small employer. (10-12 employees depending on the season). We would consider the impact on the work environment and moralle. (Do others resent picking up her slack? Is there slack?) You really do get the feel for real issues verses lazyness.

We allow flex hours,and occasional job sharing. But…. sometimes that isn’t enough. It might be that we can change the position to be part time with an hours acceptability range required to get her job done. (measure productivity–it still has to stay in range proportionately. This allows her to meet her family needs and ours.

Most everyone in our office has cycled through one of those seasons when a spouse was deployed, a husband dying of cancer, sick kids, single parents and the like. We have allowed them time off without pay and allowed them to keep their vacation in tact. Everyone pitches in and knows that the kindness will be reciprocated when it is their turn to take lifes lumps.

Why is it that our work must be so ridged that there is no room for things like this. Not everyones life fits the mold of ideal. These major health issues and seasons of life contribute to this. Why must compassionate acts have to be legislated through something like FLMA?

Our office shows that with the right team in place, it can work. Our staff has been long-term in part due to mutual respect, loyalty and greatfulness for the unusual bennefit of flexability. In our industry, that saves us TONS in training costs.

I have found that emphasizing the importance of attendance during the intitial interview and again upon hiring helps set the expectations, which are also clearly stated in our handbook. As a very small business, I emphasize that we are looking for particular skills and values, the most basic and non-negotiable of which is timely, regular attendance. “If you cannot commit to very high levels of attendance then this is not the job for you.” I have some concerns about making room for an individual with personal issues since a precedent could thereby be set. We always state that any time off beyond earned paid vacation time is discouraged and in any event the effect on a small business is always the biggest consideration. If an employee asks today far in the future, we emphasize that if we try to accommodate the request it will not be guaranteed since our business needs, staffing requirements and/or the employee’s performance standards could change in the interim.