One of the more frustrating challenges facing a manger is the employee who just can’t seem to make it in to work, with unpredictable absences and/or regular tardiness. At best, this behavior causes disruption of the workplace while coworkers figure out how to compensate for the missing person; at worst, critical work goes undone. Addressing the problem with the employee may elicit a need for accommodation of a disability, in which case there is a clear path to follow. But what about the employee who always promises to do better and does – for a few weeks?
The best way to address tardiness and absence problems is with an attendance and punctuality policy in your employee manual. This lays out the ground rules under which employees work and gives managers a clear rule to point to when they need to discipline someone. In the worst cases, it provides a policy that the employee violated that justifies firing them.
Before you write an attendance and punctuality policy, think about why you want one. Is attendance an essential function of each job? If not, break jobs up by whether attendance is essential or preferred and write policies for each category; you might have stricter rules for attendance in customer service jobs, for instance, than in clerical jobs, so specify that. You may also need to distinguish between exempt and non-exempt employees.
Your policy should specify that it exists because absences and tardiness disrupt the workplace; make it clear that there is a business reason for expecting employees to show up on time, not just some control freak wanting everyone on a rigid schedule. The language will look something like “Employee absences cause disruption in the workplace. The Company does not tolerate excessive absence and tardiness, and it may lead to discipline up to and including termination.”
Avoid hard numbers such as “absences of more than three days without notification” – that removes management discretion, makes it hard to accommodate employees who have real problems, and eliminates the ability to deal with cases individually. It also makes it hard to deal with someone who has figured out the rules and is routinely gone for three days at a time, but never four.
Attendance and punctuality polices are a helpful tool for managing employees, but take the time to think through what you really need before distributing one. Avoid making them punitive for small lapses, and leave management room to address absences on a case by case basis. And once you have it, don’t forget to use (and enforce) it.
Thanks to Amy Christensen for a great presentation!