Disciplining Employees for Absenteeism

Absenteeism and Excuses

Employers hear all the excuses. “My alarm didn’t go off.” “My car broke down.” “My babysitter didn’t show up.” “I have a terrible cold.”  Sometimes those excuses for being absent or late ring true. However, chronic absenteeism and tardiness become major problems in the workplace, consequently wreaking havoc on productivity as well as morale.

You would think getting an employee to show up on time every day would be a simple matter. However, these days you really can’t simply say, “Be here or be fired” when an employee walks through the door late or not at all. Accordingly, you must add in legal factors such as the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA).

Delicate Strategies

For this reason, business owners and managers must employ strategies that combat absenteeism. Nonetheless, they must also remain on the right side of the legal line.

Disciplining employees requires a delicate balancing act. Push too hard and you alienate people. Tiptoe around the core issue and you confuse people. It’s never easy, and most managers never learned how.

Eight Do’s and Don’ts

When it comes to disciplining an employee for absenteeism, several different strategies are available for your use. Deciding which one works best for you isn’t always cut and dried. Avoid making disciplinary mistakes could lead your company to court by following these do’s and don’ts:

√ DO figure out an acceptable level of absences, if your organization does not specify a maximum number. Think about how many days an employee could miss without significantly sacrificing work quality.

× DON’T penalize employees who have a legal reason to be late or absent. Such reasons should be specified, e.g., physical therapy, alcohol treatment, or leaving early for a doctor’s appointment. Consequently, the same goes for employees who have a legitimate reason to be late or absent using earned company benefits, like personal days.

√ DO make sure you understand who gets the last word on any gray areas in dispute about any policy that affects attendance.

× DON’T undermine your company’s absenteeism policy by ignoring any step that seems convenient. It can lead to charges that the rules were applied in an arbitrary or discriminatory manner.

√ DO recognize the difference between the employee who was out one day all year—even if you suspect it wasn’t for a good reason—and the employee who has a chronic problem. Adjust your discipline accordingly.

× DON’T get bent out of shape if an employee challenges your interpretation of any policy that deals with attendance. Work it out.

√ DO begin documenting absences as soon as you notice a trend. Record dates, hours absent, and the reason the employee gives for them.

× DON’T put employees in the impossible situation of choosing their jobs over their health or family responsibilities. That could be a violation of the FMLA.

Effective Communication

No manager enjoys disciplining employees. In fact, it’s an important part of the job.  I you do it the right way, you can help a misbehaving employee solve a problem — or get rid of an employee who is a problem.

Effective managers communicate concern, redirect unruly behavior, and confront wrongdoing.  At the same time, they maintain a respectful tone. They leave no room for misunderstanding or misinterpretation.