Author: Jessica Elichman
This Supervisor Briefing examines the law and best practices for managing employee attendance in the workplace, and it covers the following topics:
- Become Familiar With the Employer's Attendance Policy
- Establish Clear Expectations About Employee Attendance
- Understand Leave Laws
- Managing Leave Requests
- Do Not Penalize Employees for Legitimate Absences
- Permit Employees to Attend to Personal Business - Within Reason
- Managing Employees Who Do Not Appear For Work
- Keep Precise Attendance Records
- Enforce Attendance Rules Consistently
- Address Attendance Issues Before They Escalate
- Rely on Attendance Policies When Instituting Disciplinary Action
- Evaluate Employees Based on Attendance As Well As Performance
Become Familiar With the Employer's Attendance Policy
Employers generally establish attendance guidelines in order to assure legal compliance and to satisfy the needs of their employees. Supervisors should thoroughly understand the employer's attendance requirements and specifically note any distinctions in these requirements based on employees' seniority levels. If not addressed in the employer's attendance policy, supervisors should determine whether employees will be permitted to work from home and whether they must seek approval to do so.
Establish Clear Expectations About Employee Attendance
Supervisors should clearly inform all existing employees and new hires of the employer's attendance expectations. Such communications should focus on attendance as critical to the employer's successful operation, and the valuable role each employee plays in the daily functioning of the employer's operations.
During orientation, supervisors should inform new hires of the employer's policies and notice requirements for both paid and unpaid leave. Supervisors should provide new employees with written copies of the attendance policy and review the policy verbally with them to avoid any future confusion. The supervisor should instruct the employee to review the policy and acknowledge in writing that they understand the policy. A copy of this acknowledgment should be placed in the employee's personnel file.
Understand Leave Laws
Supervisors need to understand the laws related to leave requests under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and other similar state and local laws that address leave based on disability and childbirth as well as military leave, jury duty leave, civic duty leave etc. Supervisors need to have a basic understanding of these leave laws and how they apply to employees in the workplace Supervisors should consult HR if presented with an absence that may be covered by a leave law.
Managing Leave Requests
Supervisors should be sure their employees understand leave procedures. Supervisors should inform employees of the procedures for calling out of work, including who the request should be made to.
Supervisors should require employees to contact their direct supervisor in the event of an absence. The supervisor-employee relationship is the most significant to the employee and thus the employee may think twice about having to speak to their supervisor about their absence.
Supervisors should also review the procedures for requesting extended leave, including to whom the request should be made and how far in advance the request should be made. All leave requests should be made in writing. Employees should understand who within the organization has the ability to grant leave.
Supervisors should remember to grant leave for specified reasons on a consistent basis. If one employee learns another employee has been granted leave for the same reason they were denied, that employee may allege they were discriminated against.
Do Not Penalize Employees for Legitimate Absences
Employers should not penalize employees for legitimate absences that may be protected by the FMLA, ADA or other state and local laws permitting employees to take legitimate absences. While supervisors should generally seek to apply attendance policies uniformly, employers must be careful about employee absences covered by the ADA, the FMLA, and other similar federal, state and local laws. This is especially true in light of the expanded definition of disability under the recent Amendments to the ADA. In most cases, such absences cannot be used as the basis for disciplinary action, a negative performance review or compensation decision and the employer should indicate a willingness to consider excusing such absences. If an employee is out of work for a prolonged period of time as a result of a medical illness or condition, the supervisor may be able request documentation. The supervisor together with the employer or HR should then make an individualized assessment and evaluate whether the absence is caused by a condition that is protected under the law. Supervisors should be sure to keep any such documents in a separate file and confidential.
Supervisors should also recognize that their attendance policies may need to be modified to incorporate steps to assess whether an individual with a disability should be afforded additional leave as a reasonable accommodation. The employer is required to engage in the interactive process and may need to provide a reasonable accommodation to employees willing to return to work after an absence or illness covered by the ADA, FMLA or other applicable laws. A supervisor can play a critical role by engaging in an interactive discussion with the employee as to what type of accommodation the employee may need in order to return to work. Thus, employers should avoid policies which require an employee to be free of all.
Permit Employees to Attend to Personal Business - Within Reason
Supervisors should recognize that employees have lives outside of the office and from time to time unavoidable and unexpected absences arise. In an effort to foster positive employee relations, supervisors should attempt to accommodate such requests within reason. However, supervisors must be sure to treat all employee requests the same and not permit employees to take advantage.
Supervisors may consider requesting documentation of personal business. For example, if an employee needs a day off to attend a parent teacher conference, the supervisor may request a note from the school.
If an employee consistently arrives late to work, or regularly calls out sick, the employee's supervisor should try to determine the cause of the issue. While the inclination may be to assume the employee is simply skipping work for pleasure, there may be an alternate reason that can be addressed with the supervisor's help. An employer's goal should be to foster open and honest communication with their employees at all times. If employees feel comfortable communicating what they need from their supervisor, they are more likely to have their needs satisfied and have a positive experience at work.
The supervisor may determine the reasons for the absences are the result of workplace problems, such as harassment, problems with a co-worker, or an employee's inability to perform job related tasks. Once advised of workplace issues, the supervisor should attempt to resolve them by following the employer's procedures relating to the issue. As always, the supervisor should document any problems expressed by the employee, and any action taken as a result.
Managing Employees Who Do Not Appear For Work
Perhaps the most challenging attendance issue to effectively manage is when employees fail to appear for work without prior warning. Failing to appear for work without prior notice may overburden other employees and leave supervisors scrambling to find others to get work done on short notice. This may lead to employee resentment. As a result of the significant burden placed on supervisors by employees who fail to attend work without prior notice, supervisors should be sure to heavily emphasize both the burden this places on an employee's co-workers and urge employees to avoid doing so as much as possible. However, in seeking to manage employees who do not appear for work, a supervisor should always consider whether the absence is legitimate and protected by the FMLA, ADA or other state and local leave laws.
Supervisors should conduct return-to-work-interviews after an employee has been out of work for any reason for more than a few days. Doing so will allow the supervisors to reaffirm the employer's commitment to controlling absenteeism and allow the supervisor to confirm the employee is ready to return to work. These interviews should occur as promptly as possible upon the employees return to work. The supervisor should inform the employee how the absence has impacted the department by highlighting the employee was missed and productivity suffered in their absence. In order to demonstrate the adverse effect the absence had on the department, the supervisor may wish to share how the employees work was handled by his co-workers. The returning employee should then be informed of the current status of any of his outstanding assignments. This meeting should never be seen as a means of punishment, but rather be used as an opportunity for the supervisor to reaffirm the impact the absence had on the employer.
Keep Precise Attendance Records
Maintaining accurate attendance records is critical to properly implementing attendance policies. Supervisors may devise and maintain their own record keeping systems or rely on software programs to track employee attendance. Regardless of the method used, attendance logs should include the use of leave, documentation of the leave, and any warnings or notices issued based on attendance issues. Supervisors may want to periodically review the logs and records of attendance to look for any consistent attendance patterns.
Reviews of attendance records should occur with enough regularity that the employee can reasonably be disciplined for any attendance issues in a timely fashion.
Enforce Attendance Rules Consistently
As with any employment law issue, consistent enforcement is critical to avoiding potential claims of discrimination and feelings of favoritism among employees that could lead to decreased morale. If supervisors do not hold all employees equally accountable for their attendance, other employees may be inclined to break the rules hoping for similar treatment of lack of consequences. Additionally, employee morale may be negatively affected if some employees are consistently required to take on the work of other employees who regularly abuse the attendance system. Disciplining employees who exhibit attendance issues shows the employees taking on the extra work that management is making every effort to alleviate that burden. While it is important to enforce attendance rules consistently and uniformly, it is critical that employers do not discipline employees for legitimate absences covered by the ADA, FMLA or other state and local leave laws.
Address Attendance Issues Before They Escalate
When a supervisor recognizes an employee is consistently tardy or regularly leaves early, supervisors should use informal measures prior to implementing progressive discipline. For example, begin by reminding that employee of the employer's attendance policy and the reasons the employer has the policy. The supervisor should clarify any misunderstandings about the policy. The supervisor should reiterate that each employee and their work is critical to the daily functioning of the organization, and that other employees depend on the employee to execute his job duties. If appropriate, supervisors may want to set a date for when the employee's attendance will be evaluated again.
Generally, supervisors should provide at least two verbal reminders to an employee before taking disciplinary action based on attendance issues. Supervisors should document any and all conversations with employees related to attendance. Any written document created indicating attendance issues should be shared with the employee before being placed in their personnel file. Supervisors should help the employee set short term goals to improve their attendance.
Attendance issues should be addressed on a one-on-one basis. However, if a supervisor recognizes a trend in their team where a number of team members are exhibiting attendance issues, the supervisor may elect to address the issue in a team manner. The supervisor should meet with the team, reiterate expectations and explain the problem on a larger scale and how the group absentee issue is negatively impacting their goals and that of the organization as other teams depend on them.
Rely on Attendance Policies When Instituting Disciplinary Action
Disciplinary action should never come as a surprise to an employee. Employees should be aware of the rules and understand what actions will violate the employer's policies. Employees who have persistent attendance issues should be informed if their attendance does not improve there will be consequences and what those consequences will be. Once an employee is informed of the consequences of not correcting their behavior, it is important that the supervisor follow-through with such consequences if the employee does not modify their behavior. Failure to do so will signify to the employee, and others, that the supervisor does not take attendance issues seriously and makes empty threats. In disciplining employees for violation of the employer's attendance policy, supervisors should be extremely careful and avoid disciplining employees for legitimate and protected absences covered by the FMLA, ADA or other similar state and local leave laws.
Evaluate Employees Based on Attendance As Well As Performance
Supervisors are generally accustomed to evaluating employees based on their aptitude at performing their job. Attendance, however, is a critical part of any job. After all, without being present, an employee cannot fulfill their job duties. For this reason, supervisors should always include an attendance component in performance evaluations. The employee should be evaluated based on their dependability and reliability.
- When should supervisors inform a new employee of the employer's attendance policy?
- During the interview process.
- Once the employee is hired.
- After the employee has completed their first month of work.
- After the employee's first absence.
- Who should employees be advised to call when unable to attend work?
- Anyone at the company.
- Their direct supervisor.
- A co-worker in their department.
- An HR manager.
- When is the best time for supervisors address attendance issues with employees?
- When a supervisor recognizes an employee is consistently tardy or regularly leaves early.
- The first time the employee calls out sick
- After the employee has used up their allotted days off.
- When other employees complain about the employees repeated absence.
- A supervisor should NOT penalize an employee for which of the following attendance issues?
- Absences under the FMLA.
- When the employee failed to notify his/her supervisor that he or she would be absent.
- Absences where the employee took extended leave without completing the proper documentation.
- An employee who habitually leaves work early.
- b. Supervisors should clearly inform all new hires of the employer's attendance expectations immediately upon their hire. Supervisors should inform new hires of the employer's policies and notice requirements for both paid and unpaid leave. Supervisors should also provide new employees with written copies of the attendance policy and review the policy verbally with them to avoid any confusion. To advise employees of the attendance expectations during the interview process may be too early. To advise employees of the attendance policy after their first month of work or after their first absence is too late.
- b. Employees should be instructed to contact their direct supervisor when they will be absent at work. Doing so will allow the supervisor to carefully monitor the employees attendance and efficiently distribute the employee's assignments as needed, causing the least disruption to the department. Only in situations where the employee is unable to reach or get a message to his or her direct supervisor should the employee resort to reaching out to others at the company.
- a. Supervisors should address an attendance issue as soon as the supervisor recognizes a pattern of absences or tardiness. Addressing such issues before they escalate will avoid greater disruption in the workplace. Supervisors should begin by using informal measures, such as reminding the employee of the company's attendance policies and the disruption their absence causes to their co-workers. It is not necessary to an address an attendance issue with an employee the first time he or she calls out sick as this may not be a common occurrence. However, supervisors should not wait until the employee has used up all of his or her allotted days or until co-worker's complain about repeated absences to address the issue and should determinate on their own when it is appropriate to bring the issue of attendance up with the employee.
- a. Employers should refrain from penalizing employees for legitimate absences that could be protected by the FMLA, ADA or other state and local laws permitting employees to take legitimate absences. Supervisors should become familiar with the expanded definition of disability under the recent Amendments to the ADA. The law generally prohibits covered absences from being used as a basis for disciplinary action. An employee may be able to penalize or discipline an employee who habitually leaves work early who takes extended leave without completing the proper documentation, fails to notify his or her supervisor when they will be absent.