Managing Employees with Attendance Issues

How to Deal with Employees with Attendance Issues, Dmitrii Kotin, iStock, 2015
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Encouraging good attendance starts with setting clear expectations. For instance, are your employees required to start at a specific time, or do they have some flexibility with when they can arrive at work? Do your employees know what the attendance requirements are? With clearly communicated guidelines for attendance, many employees will have relatively few issues with showing up to work, but you will still have a few who need some extra coaching on attendance.

Focus on Fixing the Problem

When it comes to attendance issues, focus on fixing the problem rather than punishing the behavior. This is especially important when the person is otherwise a good employee. Ultimately you want to help the employee find a solution to what is causing the attendance problem rather than firing them and starting over with someone new.

Address attendance issues as soon as they crop up. Allowing an attendance problem to go on unchecked reinforces the problem. If a supervisor does not talk to the employee about regularly showing up 20 minutes late, then the employee will start to assume being lax about punctuality is acceptable. Before meeting with the employee, gather information about their attendance record. Note days they were late or absent and what excuse they gave. Noting attendance on a calendar gives a good visual. For example, you may see that the employee often misses Mondays.

When you meet with the employee, review their attendance record and remind the employee of what your expectation is. Explain to the employee how it affects the rest of the team when one person regularly misses work or is late. Ask the employee why they are having attendance issues, and work with them on coming up with a solution. I one time had an employee tell me he was usually 15 minutes late to work because he had a hard time getting ready quickly in the morning. I gently reminded the employee to set his alarm clock 15 minutes earlier.

If, for example, you have an employee who says that due to the time their child’s school starts, it is hard to get to work on time, consider adjusting their start time back if possible. Some attendance issues have easy solutions, and it can be beneficial to work with the employee to meet their needs. When offering such schedule adjustments, just be careful that you are not offering such options to some employees but not others. Be fair in managing attendance in order to avoid discriminatory practices.

As with any employee issue, document your conversation, and follow up to see if there is improvement. If an employee continues to have attendance issues after you have tried to work with them on solving the problem, follow through with your normal corrective action process.

Accommodating Disabilities

Sometimes the underlying cause of an attendance issue is health-related. In such cases, an employee may have a right to a reasonable accommodation under the Americans with Disabilities Act. Several years ago I was having a conversation with an employee who would often call in and say she was going to be late. When I asked the employee why she was tardy, she told me that she was developing arthritis and that sometimes this made the process of getting out of bed and getting ready for work very slow. I worked with the employee through the interactive process, and gave the employee a flexible start time so she could take extra time in the morning on the days her arthritis was acting up.

Employees with health issues that affect attendance may also be eligible for a leave of absence under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and state leave laws. If you find that an employee is missing every Wednesday because it is the day after they need to recover from ongoing treatment, they may qualify for intermittent leave under the FMLA.

Allow Some Flexibility

We all have personal business to attend to that sometimes interferes with the work day. Employees who work at companies with restrictive policies around attendance are more likely to call in and pretend to be sick when they need to attend to personal business during the day. Have some flexibility with attendance, so employees feel comfortable scheduling time off for such appointments in advance. After all, it is much easier to plan for an absence when you have some notice.

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