Attendance Problems

Be cautious when addressing excessive absenteeism because some medical conditions are covered under the ADA and are legitimate reasons to miss work, and there are also some conditions covered under the FMLA that you read about in Chapter 12. However, you will find that the majority of people who miss a lot of work do not have valid reasons — they live a lifestyle that causes poor attendance or they are simply unreliable.

Poor attendance results in decreased productivity and profit. Employees with good attendance get burned out or feel resentful toward the workers with unexcused absences, and for good reason. They are the ones who have to work harder when someone isn't there to do his share of the work.

Your company should have a written attendance policy that spells out how many absences are considered excessive within a given period of time. As always, discipline of employees with excessive absenteeism must be consistent. If it's not acceptable for one person to miss four days of work in a six-month period, it's not acceptable for others either. If your company has several departments, it's important that discipline for excessive absenteeism is consistent across the board. This can be a difficult task in human resources — ensuring that policies are addressed consistently amongst all managers.

Unexcused Absences

When an employee misses a lot of work or you have reason to believe that he is not really sick, you have the right to ask for a note from his doctor excusing him from work. For instance, if he often calls in sick on Fridays and you feel that he is doing this to get a three-day weekend, you can require that he bring in a doctor's note on Monday stating that he was too ill to work on Friday. Employees who call-off sick to extend the weekend or a holiday often get themselves caught by talking about the fun they had on their trip or other activities that make it clear that they were not really ill. You may hear them yourself, or the employees who are unhappy about being assigned extra work when they faked the illness may tell you.

The company's written attendance policy should state that a supervisor has the right to ask for a note from a doctor at his discretion. Your role as a company owner or human resource professional is to ensure that a supervisor isn't asking for doctor notes without a valid reason. Don't permit anyone to abuse the policy.

An unexcused absence should result in discipline, usually starting out as a verbal counseling or warning. Here are some absences that may be considered unexcused:

  • An absence in which the supervisor requested a doctor's note, but the employee does not have one

  • Requested a day off, but the supervisor said no and the employee says that she won't be in anyway — and she doesn't show up

  • Any other time an employee says that they will not be reporting to work without permission and without a valid reason

  • Sitting in jail. Employees are expected to act responsibly so that they can report to work each day

  • Helping a friend with an emergency. Generally, only a family emergency is a legitimate reason to miss work

No Call/No Show

When someone doesn't show up for work and does not call, the first thing to do is become worried. The employee may have experienced a hardship at home or been in an accident on the way to work. Call the employee's house and cell phone and see if you can reach him.

One no call/no show should not be grounds for immediate termination, but it is definitely a serious issue. It would be reasonable to issue a written warning for this the first time it happens. There should be a level of accountability for employees: To decide not to go to work or to forget to check the schedule and miss a day is irresponsible and causes undue hardship for the supervisor who was not prepared for the absence, and the other employees who had to pick up the slack.

If an employee has a valid reason for a no call/no show, should I excuse it?

If the employee had a family emergency that resulted in him being unable to think about work or make a phone call, or if the employee was hospitalized suddenly and did not have a chance to call, and family members didn't think to ask about it, the absence should be excused.

You will be surprised at some of the reasons you will hear from employees about why they did not show up for work. He slept in until noon and thought that it was too late to call. A friend from out of town flew in for a surprise visit. She had to clean house because company is coming over this weekend.

Consider what your written attendance policy says about no call/no shows and act accordingly. If all employees were given a copy of the employee handbook with the policy when they were hired, there should be no surprises when someone is disciplined because they decided not to show up for work. If someone gets written up, spell out in the warning what the consequences will be if it happens again. Like all policies, it should be consistent. If two no call/no shows within a twelve-month period are cause for employment termination, this must apply to everyone.

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