Managing Attendance Issues

Employees are expected to take leave as needed to recover from illness, maintain work/life balance, and manage their health and other personal needs. But when a pattern of absences results in lost productivity, or impedes the work of others, attendance can become an issue. Attendance problems may show up as:

  • Unauthorized or unscheduled absences.
  • A pattern of before and after weekend absences.
  • Tardiness and early departures.
  • Long or frequent breaks.
  • Excessive leave use, resulting in the need to take leave without pay.

Strategies for Success

  • Clearly define the problem. The goal is to improve performance, not just improve attendance. Clearly establish and understand the specific impact of missed work, such as:< >Lack of availability for customers.Lost productivity.Missed deadlines or deliverables.Impact on other employees’ deliverables, productivity, or morale.Set clear standards. Supervisors often assume that employees understand their expectations about flexing their schedules, taking breaks, and submitting leave requests. Many issues can be resolved by simply communicating specific expectations.
  • Monitor and document employee attendance. Analyzing attendance to determine whether a true pattern or problem exists, and intervene at the earliest possible opportunity.
  • Consider requiring medical verification. If records indicate a pattern of sick leave abuse, consider requiring the employee to provide medical verification of their illness.
  • Be aware of other laws affecting leave use. There is a complex web of federal and state laws that impact leave from work, including the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA)Washington State Family Leave ActAmericans with Disabilities Act (ADA),Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment rights Act (USERRA), and Workers Compensation. Thoroughly analyze whether employees have specific legal rights before taking any action.
  • Assess whether the problem is temporary or chronic. Many people experience a short-term personal crisis that requires absence from work. Issues can include acute personal illness, family illness or death, substance abuse treatment, spousal abuse, and/or family legal trouble. Whether the issue is temporary or long-term may impact the course of action an employer chooses to take.
  • Don’t take personal responsibility for the source of the problem. It is not an employer’s job to fix underlying problems, but rather to provide resources to employees that may help them improve their performance.

Potential Challenges

  • Shifting behavior. When confronted with one type of leave abuse (e.g., calling in sick every Monday after payday), some employees will stop that behavior but begin exhibiting another problem (e.g., tardiness or long lunch breaks). When responding to this kind of abuse, consider setting strong and comprehensive standards for the employee covering all aspects of attendance.
  • Up / Down cycles. Some employees will correct attendance issues when first confronted, only to return to old behavior several months later. Consider implementing a performance improvement plan with a long monitoring timeframe during which the employee must demonstrate improvement.
  • Concerns about treating employees differently. Some supervisors fail to take action because they believe they have to ‘treat everyone the same.’ It is appropriate to set stricter standards for employees with attendance problems. Treating them differently is not a punishment, it is a targeted strategy to help improve their performance.
  • Employees who come to work sick. Also known as ‘presentee-ism’, Many employees choose to come to work sick rather than use up their sick leave or take leave without pay. Persuading or forcing employees to take leave can be difficult. Other options include requiring the employee to provide a doctor’s release before returning to work, or assigning the employee to work from home rather than infect other staff.

Other Resources

The Employee Assistance Program provides resources for and assistance to employees and their family members to resolve personal or work related problems. 

Published
Original: February 17, 2009
Last update: September 10, 2015