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Absenteeism and Attendance of Employees

Employee absenteeism is one of the most common workplace problems facing employers in
todays workplace. Legitimate illnesses still account for the majority of employee absences, but
some studies have shown that less than one-third of absences from the workplace are related to
poor health. Most employers offer their workers vacation, sick leave, paid time off, or other
kinds of paid and unpaid leave.

Federal and state employment laws regarding employee leave

Four federal laws critical to employee absenteeism issues are: the Family and Medical Leave
Act (FMLA), the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the Uniformed Services Employment
and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA) and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title

In addition to federal laws, almost all states have workers compensation laws that cover on-the-
job illnesses and injuries. Most state workers compensation laws protect workers who must take
time off from work because of their injuries. Some states even have their own laws regarding
family and medical leave.

Employers should be careful how they deal with absenteeism by exempt employees. Dont dock
an exempt employees paycheck for missing less than one full day of work because it could
destroy her exemption and entitle her to time-and-a-half for all overtime she has worked in the
past or works in the future. The only exception is if the absence is covered by the FMLA.
Two other attendance issues protected by law are employees called to jury duty and employees
who request time off for religious reasons. State and federal laws generally require employers to
give workers leave when called to serve on a jury. And employers may have to bend their
attendance rules to accommodate a workers religious practices or beliefs.
State-by-state comparison of 50 employment laws in all 50 states, including employee leave laws

Reducing employee absenteeism and abuse of employee leave policies

One of the most frustrating parts of administering attendance policies for employers is the
incredible amount of abuse that takes place. A key to curbing abuse is to have an absenteeism
policy that clearly sets forth which absences are allowed, and what behavior will subject the
employee to discipline. Absenteeism problems can range from employees not calling in or not
showing up for their shifts, taking sick leave when well, and exhausting their available leave
every month, to requesting extra time off and establishing patterns of abuse. For these non-
protected absences employers can, and should, discipline their employees.

A companys policy should be clearly written and disseminated to all employees. In addition, the
employer should make sure to train all supervisors and managers to ensure that the policy is
being fairly applied. Its a good idea to spot check attendance issues in every department to make
sure that company rules are being fairly imposed.
How to Deal with Excessive Absenteeism

Three Parts:Assessing the Problem, Finding a Solution, Preventing Absenteeism

Absenteeism on the job is a major problem for many businesses. As a manager, your task is to
implement a clear policy regarding time off, and to use your judgment and knowledge of this
policy to make a decision concerning how to deal with any cases of excessive absenteeism. You
must respond quickly, directly, and consistently to any problems with attendance. However, if
you are dealing with an employee who has excessive absences, you must also be sensitive and
determine if there is a compelling reason for the missed time.

Assessing the Problem

Consider if there is a legitimate reason for the absenteeism. [1] Sometimes, employees have
compelling reasons for being absent. An effective manager will accommodate and understand if
an employee has a good reason for not attending work, especially if he or she can explain the
absence ahead of time. Depending on your companys policy and the employees situations,
permissible absences might have reasons including:[2]

o Sick leave
o Maternity leave
o Bereavement
o Routine medical appointments
o Accommodations for disabilities
o Military leave
o Court appearances
o Jury duty
o Voting
o Approved time off
o Religious holidays

Understand what unexcused absences can mean.[3] If you cannot determine that there is a
legitimate reason for an employees absences, or if they are excessive, you will want to take steps
to deal with the situation. The exact definition of excessive will depend on your companys
policies and expectations for employees. Common examples of the misuse of employee leave

o Frequent brief periods of absences for emergencies or illnesses that do not

seem to be documented.
o Frequent requests for absences just before or after holidays or other breaks.
o Repeated absences on the same day of the week or at the same time.
o Requests for absences at undesirable times (such as periods of peak workload).
o Absences just before or after the employee receives notice of unsatisfactory
o Requests for sick leave or emergency leave after a request for regular leave was
o The amount of time the employee has been absent approaches or exceeds the
amount of time the employee has worked.

Dont ignore the problem.[5] While it may not be pleasant, if an employee has a problem with
excessive absenteeism, it is necessary to deal with it. As a manager or employer, you cannot
ignore the problem.

o Having and enforcing sound policies is essential for creating an effective

o If other employees see an employee get away with excessive absenteeism, their
morale will be lowered and they may increase their own absences.
o At a fundamental level, the employee-employer relationship is about showing up
and doing the work; if an employee is absent excessively and cannot do his or her work, then that
relationship is violated.

Assess your management style. Perhaps even more difficult than addressing an employees
excessive absenteeism is recognizing that you may have played a role in causing it. Sometimes,
however, management style can be a contributing factor in excessive absenteeism and other
workplace problems. If you are not managing effectively, your employees may feel resentful and
miss work as a result. Consider:

o Do your employees feel valued?

o Do you treat all employees fairly?
o Do you consistently enforce policies regarding absences and other issues?
o Do you make it easy for employees to communicate with you about problems and
Finding a Solution

Set up a meeting.[6] To directly address an employees absenteeism, set up a meeting between

yourself, the employee, and any other relevant individuals (such as another supervisor or human
resources representative, if applicable) to discuss the situation.

o Be proactive. Schedule a meeting as soon as you notice the problem, or it is

brought to your attention.
o Let the employee know the purpose of the meeting. The point is not to blindside
the employee, but to let both sides communicate, determine the facts, and decide on a course of
o Dont assume that there is an inexcusable reason for the employees absences.
Instead, offer to set up a meeting so that everyone can be clear with each other and understand
the situation.

Give the employee a chance to explain. Before deciding how to deal with the absenteeism, let
the employee explain if there were any legitimate reasons for missing work. If the absences were
due to a misuse of leave time or a violation of workplace policies, let the employee discuss any
plans he or she has for improving in the future. You can use the employees explanation, if any,
when determining what to do about the excessive absenteeism.

o As an employer or manager, you can ask an employee to explain absenteeism, and

ask for documentation (such as a doctors note) if necessary.
o After hearing from the employee, explain any policies or expectations your
workplace has regarding absenteeism.

Make a decision and get it in writing.[7] If your workplace has an explicit policy regarding
absenteeism, and the employee is in violation of that policy, then you will have to act in
accordance with that policy. Otherwise, your decision will be based on the facts or explanation
presented by the employee, your management style, and your own sense of judgment. Whatever
your decision, make a written statement of it; deliver it to the employee and human resources
office (if applicable), and keep a copy for your records. Some options include:

o You may issue a formal warning to the employee, explaining that future
absenteeism will result in more severe consequences.
o You may require the employee to have special permission for any future absences.
o You may decide to remove certain privileges from the employee, such as the
opportunity to choose shifts.

Terminate the employee, if necessary. Termination is a severe consequence, even for excessive
absenteeism. If you are thinking of terminating an employee due to excessive absenteeism, make
sure it is necessaryfor example, the employee has no legitimate explanation for the absences,
and/or continues the behavior even after you meet to discuss the problem. In addition, you must
make sure that termination is permissible according to any relevant employment contracts,
workplace policies, and laws.[8][9]

o If you plan to terminate an employee, consider sending him or her a written notice
and explanation beforehand.[10]
o Usually, you cannot terminate an employee on grounds of absenteeism if you only
expect that the employee will miss excessive amounts of work; instead, there must be an actual
record of absenteeism.[11]
Preventing Absenteeism
Develop a clear absenteeism policy.[12] Many instances of absenteeism can be prevented if your
workplace institutes a clear, written policy regarding leave and work time. If your workplace
does not have one, work with your human resources department or other managers to develop
one. This policy should outline things such as how to properly request leave, what level of
absenteeism is considered a problem, and how excessive absenteeism will be dealt with.

o Once the policy is developed, be sure to implement it and enforce it consistently.


o Make sure that your policy accounts for any applicable laws regarding acceptable
absences for reasons such as maternity leave, medical leave, bereavement, etc.[14]
o You should also consider whether you want to treat excessive tardiness as an issue
of absenteeism.[15]
o While it is important that an absenteeism policy is clear, it is also often prudent to
reserve some flexibility.[16] This will allow managers to use their discretion when necessary.

Track employee attendance.[17] You can help employees follow workplace policies, and know
where they stand in terms of work time and absences, by tracking their attendance. If your
employees are compensated hourly, their time and attendance is already tracked; you can help
them, however, by making sure that this information is available to them at all times. Other types
of employees can chart their attendance by formally recording days worked and leave time, by
using an electronic entry system, a paper form, or some other means.

o Some employers institute a point system. For example, employees can earn points
for regular and/or consecutive attendance; these points can then be redeemed as necessary for
leave or absences. If you implement such a system, make sure that it does not put employees on
approved leave (such as maternity leave or bereavement) at a disadvantage.
o You might also institute incentive plans to reward good employee attendance.
These can range from fun and silly (employees with good attendance records can display a
work mascot at their desk, for instance) to competitive (for instance, perks such as gift cards to a
restaurant can be earned by working a certain number of days consecutively).

Institute performance reviews. Scheduled performance reviews with each employee, perhaps
once or twice a year, can improve the workplace environment. If you have regular meetings with
your employees, you may have the opportunity to discuss any absenteeism before it becomes
excessive, as well as a chance to discuss overall work performance.

Absenteeism in the Workplace: How to Handle it Legally and Effectively

Leave Policy/Compliance Bob Brady Wednesday - July 26, 2006

Absenteeism in the workplace raises costs and undercuts teamwork. There are ways to handle
it, but first make sure its not an FMLA- or ADA-protected situation.

Playing hooky. Taking mental health days. Fishing therapy.

Call it what you will, but excessive and especially unauthorized absenteeism in the workplace is
a chronic issue for business. It saps productivity, adds to costs when substitute labor has to be
brought in, and undercuts todays team-oriented work settings.

The problem isnt new, of course. Even back in the 70s, one study estimated that three percent of
the workforce is absent on any given day. The question is what you do about it, especially as the
law has created certain protected absence situations. This question was addressed by Manesh
Rath, a partner with the Washington law firm of Keller and Heckman, at a recent SHRM

Know the laws governing protected workplace absenteeism

First priority, said Rath, is to become familiar with laws concerning protected absence from the

He referred in particular to the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and the Americans with
Disabilities Act (ADA). FMLA allows qualified workers up to 12 weeks of unpaid absence in a
12-month period, on either an extended or intermittent basis, for personal medical issues, or to
care for family members with such issues. ADA mandates reasonable accommodation for a
workers disability, which may take the form of time off for medical or other needs.
Sometimes, however, the limits of these laws are pushed. As an example, Rath cited an airline
employee who claimed that taking time off to pick up a car for use by his pregnant wife
constituted caring for her under FMLA.

The story didnt sell to either his boss or a judge. To care for a family member with a medical
condition, the court said, required close, continuing proximity. Whats more, care
meant medical, hygienic, nutritional or psychological aid. Though taking time to transport a
relative to a medical appointment qualified as such aid, picking up a car to do it did not!.

Employers can set rules about protected absenteeism in the workplace

Employers can set reasonable rules around protected leave. In evidence, Rath cited another case
in which an employer demanded that a worker on FMLA leave call in and report his travel to and
from the doctor. The employer further demanded that these calls be an actual conversation with a
designated manager, not a voice or email message.

When the worker failed to comply, he was disciplined. He subsequently sued, but the court again
ruled in the employers favor, noting that making the worker call in may have been strict, but it
still allowed him his leave and did not unreasonably violate his privacy.

Rath then turned to workplace absenteeism not protected by law, and he offered several
suggestions to improve attendance:

Train managers on how to effectively keep absence records. Sloppy recordkeeping

can foster a casual attitude about showing up for work, as well as undermine any later
disciplinary steps or legal defense.

Offer incentive pay for perfect attendance.

Schedule shifts that appeal to employees. Many employers offer flextime, especially on
lower-paying jobs, so a worker neednt take a sick day when he or she needs only an hour
off to deliver a child to daycare.

Cross-train employees to cover for absent workers.

Know when discipline for excessive absenteeism is legal and appropriate.

The Role of the Supervisor in Managing Absenteeism
Address Unscheduled Absences to Reduce Absenteeism

By Stefani Yorges, Ph.D.

Updated October 12, 2016

According to a CCH Unscheduled Absence Survey, employers are losing ground when it comes
to keeping workers on the job. Unscheduled absenteeism rates have risen to their highest level
since 1999.

What continues to be of most concern is that almost two out of three employees who dont show
up for work arent physically ill.

For most companies, the responsibility for managing absenteeism has fallen primarily on
immediate supervisors.

These supervisors are often the only people who are aware that a certain employee is absent.
They are in the best position to understand the circumstances surrounding an individuals
absence and to notice a problem at an early stage. Therefore, their active involvement in the
companys absence procedures is pivotal to the overall effectiveness and future success of an
absence policy or program.

Sadly, however, most supervisors have not received any guidance or training in managing
absenteeism. They have been left on their own to carry out the often unpopular task of
identifying, confronting and resolving absence abuse.

To ensure that supervisors are comfortable and competent in their role of managing absenteeism,
they need to have the full support of senior management. All parties must be aware of the aim of
absence policies and procedures. Should there be discrepancies between departments; a policy
can lose its effectiveness.

To provide more consistency, supervisors should be trained in their responsibilities about

managing absenteeism, advised how to conduct effective return-to-work interviews, and
educated in the use of disciplinary procedures when necessary.

The Responsibilities of the Supervisor

In addition to ensuring that work is appropriately covered during the employees absence, there
are a number of other critical actions that supervisors need to take to manage absenteeism.

They should:

ensure that all employees are fully aware of the organizations policies and procedures for
dealing with the absence,

be the first point of contact when an employee phones in sick,

maintain appropriately detailed, accurate, and up-to-date absence records for their staff,
(e.g., date, nature of illness/reason for absence, expected return to work date, doctors
certification if necessary),

identify any patterns or trends of absences which cause concern,

conduct return-to-work interviews, and

implement disciplinary procedures where necessary.

The Return-to-Work Interview

The training of supervisors in how to best manage absenteeism should include instruction on
how to conduct effective and fair return-to-work interviews. Recent national surveys indicate that
these interviews are regarded as one of the most effective tools for managing short-term

The return-to-work discussion will enable the supervisor to welcome the employee back to work,
in addition to demonstrating managements strong commitment to controlling and managing
absenteeism in the workplace.

The interview will enable a check to be made that the employee is well enough to return to work.

The necessary paperwork can be completed so that the absence and its conclusion are properly
recorded. The fact that an established procedure is in place to investigate and discuss absence
with an employee may, on its own, act as a deterrent for non-attendance for disingenuous

Interviews need to be carried out as promptly as possible following the absentees return to work
(no later than one day after his or her return). The employee should be given ample opportunity
to outline the reasons for his or her absence. The supervisor should use the interview as a time to
explore any issues that the employee may have which are leading to absence.

The goal is to foster an open and supportive culture. The procedures are in place to make sure
that help and advice are offered when needed and to ensure that the employee is fit to return to

Employees will usually appreciate the opportunity to explain genuine reasons for absence within
a formalized structure. Should the supervisor doubt the authenticity of the reasons given for
absence, he/she should use this opportunity to express any doubts or concerns.
At all times, the employee must be aware that the interview is not merely part of company
procedures, but a significant meeting during which the absence has been noted and may have
implications for future employment. The companys disciplinary procedure, in the event of
unacceptable levels of absence, should be explained to the employee.

The manager may choose to outline how the absence affected the department. The message
should be that the employee was missed and that productivity suffered.

The manner in which the department was required to reorganize staffing arrangements might also
be explained. This would demonstrate that the efficiency of the work unit was adversely affected
by the absence.

The supervisor should then brief the returning employee about the current situation (for example,
what tasks are now priorities, what work has already been carried out and where the employee
should now focus his/her efforts).

At no point during the meeting should the interview become a form of punishment, but should
be seen as an occasion to highlight and explain the repercussions of absence within the
department. The vast majority of employees derive a sense of pride and achievement from their
work and management should be encouraged to treat these individuals as responsible adults.

Most employees understand reasonable rules and do not want to be threatened into compliance.
The small percentage of employees who indeed have an absence problem will require close
supervision and possibly even punitive measures for excessive absenteeism. These few
employees who are irresponsible should be handled individually and firmly.

Recommended Disciplinary Procedures if Absenteeism Continues

The following guidelines outline the recommended steps to be taken in cases where short-term
absences are considered to be above an acceptable level in a particular period of time.

Stage 1: Counseling Interview

The immediate supervisor should advise the employee of his concern over the absences,
try to establish the reasons for the sickness and determine what needs to be done to
improve attendance.

If any medical condition is identified at this stage and is likely to have an effect on job
suitability, the supervisor should arrange an appointment with a company-approved
doctor. This should be confirmed with the employee in writing within five working days.

If from the discussion, the problem does not appear to be due to an underlying unfitness
for work, the supervisor should advise the employee that, while the recorded ailments
may be genuine, a sustained improvement in attendance is expected or the next stage in
the procedure will be taken.

A review of the attendance will automatically be made each month for the next six

Stage 2: First Formal Review (Verbal Warning Stage)

If the employees absences continue to worsen following analysis and regular monitoring,
he should be invited to attend a formal review meeting with the supervisor.

The absence record should be detailed in a letter inviting the employee for this interview.
The employee should be advised that she is entitled to be represented by a union
representative or a colleague as appropriate.

The purpose of this meeting will be to:

--continue to discuss the underlying reasons for the absences,
--advise the employee of the service and cost implications of her absence, and
--warn the employee (except when deciding to seek medical advice) that if there is not a
substantial and sustained improvement, her employment may be terminated because of
her inability to maintain an acceptable attendance level. This constitutes the verbal
Where medical attention is warranted, action must be taken immediately. The meeting is
therefore only adjourned to allow this part of the process to be completed. Within five
working days, the employee must receive medical advice. The meeting is then
reconvened with HR and the doctors opinion is discussed.

If the doctor confirms fitness for work, the employee should be warned about the
consequences of continued absence.

Stage 3: Second Formal Review (Written Warning Stage)

Where regular monitoring indicates that no improvement in the absence pattern has
occurred, a second formal meeting will be arranged with HR.

The letter inviting the employee to the meeting will include the absence record and,
again, advice on representation.

Any new information given at the meeting regarding ill health or a change in the nature
of sickness may need to be assessed by a company-approved doctor.

The employee should be given the opportunity to explain his or her absence record. If
appropriate, the supervisor should inform the employee that a formal written warning is
being issued and that this warning will remain in the employees file for a specified
period. A copy of the warning should be issued to the employee and to his/her

The employee should be informed that failure to comply with the companys attendance
expectations and to improve on the present unacceptable record of absence, will result in
the termination of the employees employment.

Where fitness for work is in doubt, proceed with redeployment options according to the
guidance received by the doctor. Consult with the employees union representative (if
applicable) on the redeployment process and options.

Stage 4: Temporary Suspension From Work

If following the implementation of the previous stages of the disciplinary process, no
improvement in attendance occurs, management may proceed with a temporary
suspension without pay. The intention to suspend should be confirmed in writing with
details of start and end dates. A copy of the letter of suspension should be sent to the
employees representative (if applicable).

Stage 5: Termination of Employment

This is the final stage in the disciplinary process whereby the employee is dismissed for
inability to comply with the companys requirements for attendance at work. Dismissal
can only take place with the written authorization of a senior manager and HR.

The letter calling the employee in will again include advice on representation and will
outline the absence record. The employee should be advised that, as a result of the
interview, he or she may be dismissed for incapability to perform work duties.

Again, the company doctor may have to be consulted if any new information is
forthcoming in regard to the employees health or capacity for work.

Where redeployment is not possible, or appropriate, consider proceeding with dismissal

for reasons of capability. Eligibility for disability benefit will depend on the
circumstances of each case.

If a decision is made to dismiss on the basis of capability, a copy of the letter of

dismissal should be sent to the employees representative (if appropriate).

The employee may have the right to appeal against dismissal. The appeal should be in
line with the companys disciplinary procedures.

Challenges in Managing Absenteeism

Be aware that supervisors are often uncomfortable or unwilling to report on those who have
exceeded acceptable levels of absenteeism. Because of the many pressures already on
supervisors, the consistent implementation of absenteeism policies is not always their top
It is important to try to take the subjectivity out of managing absenteeism and to ensure that all
employees are treated the same. It is essential to be consistent, persistent, and fair to all. When
absence is not addressed or addressed in an inconsistent manner, lower morale can result.

Employees can feel they have been treated unfairly when they perceive other absent employees
are getting away with it.

The majority of employees will appreciate policies and programs that are facilitative, rather than
punitive. Stringent or punitive measures that force employees to come to work can result in
employees that then become, "absent while at work."

They do as little as possible and resist any effort to get them to do more. Other programs should
be implemented that help employees be present at work, such as flexible work scheduling, job
sharing, attendance awards and wellness programs.