Client Resource Center

Where ARE They?!?

Lateness, last-minute call-offs and no-shows aren't just irritating -- they're bad for business. End attendance issues and absenteeism by knowing the law and creating an iron-clad policy.

Getting stood up by a date is embarrassing. Getting stood up by your employees is infuriating. After all, when staff don't show up to their jobs, it's not just your ego that's at stake: it's the well-being, productivity and prosperity of everyone on the team and the entire business, too.

If your employees are chronically tardy, if absenteeism is on the rise, or if you're facing a spate of last-minute "sorry, I won't make it" calls, it's time to take another look at your attendance expectations and policies. By clearly defining what is and is not acceptable and by knowing the law, you can set high expectations -- and take prompt action if those expectations aren't met.

Step One: Define What You Need

Start by listing the points your attendance policy needs to cover. Consider these questions:

  • When (if ever) is our office open to the public?
  • How soon do people need to arrive in order to be "set up" for the start of business? How late do they need to stay at the end of the day? Who needs to be responsible for set up and tear down?
  • Can staff leave when they're done for the day?
  • How flexible can we be with respect to start and end times each day?
  • If staff are going to be late, or need to leave for a doctor's appointment or other essential task, whom should they notify? How should they communicate this information? When should they communicate it?
  • What should the consequences be for the first "unexcused" tardy or absence? For the second? The third? Who will impose these consequences?
  • When an essential person is a call-off or no-show, what's our plan?
  • What counts as paid time off? What counts as unpaid time off? When should employees avoid taking time off (for instance, during the "rush" season)?
  • Which employees are hourly? Which are salaried employees exempt from overtime rules?

In the next step, we'll look at some of the key laws that apply to workplace attendance policies. These rules may affect the answers to these questions that make it into your final policy. During the first step, however, simply jot down your ideal structure, taking your workplace's culture and your employees' needs into account.

Step Two: Understanding the Law

Several state and federal laws cover employee work time and reasons an employee may be absent from work without penalty. A few of the key federal laws in play are:

  • The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), which requires employers of a certain size to provide unpaid leave to workers dealing with their own or a family member's medical or other needs;
  • The Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA), which requires "reasonable accommodations" for employee disabilities -- accommodations which may include, for example, more time for doctor's appointments;
  • The Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA), which applies to former service members seeking to reintegrate into the workforce; and
  • Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII), which covers discrimination in employment.

State workers' compensation laws may also apply if a worker is hurt on the job and needs to take time off work. Your state may also have laws regarding family and medical leave.

In addition, clarifying which employees are salaried employees exempt from overtime rules is essential to creating a policy that performs as intended. For example, if your policy docks pay for partial days missed from an exempt employee, it may give the employee grounds to be treated as hourly, non-exempt -- which makes your business responsible for paying overtime.

You can, however, track the time employees are present and working, whether or not they are hourly employees. For instance, you can have every employee "punch in" and use the data to track absences and lateness and as evidence when enforcing policies. Merely tracking time won't affect an exempt worker's status, as long as that information is not used to affect the worker's pay for that time.

While articles like this one can provide a general guide, there is no substitute for specialized legal advice. Ask an attorney if you have specific questions about your business.

Step Three: Implement and Backstop

An employee absence policy can be used to address many different kinds of absenteeism, from not calling in and not showing up to taking sick leave for non-medical reasons and running through available leave every month. It's vital, as with every company policy, to set clear standards, specify the consequences for failing to meet them, and then follow through when an employee fails to meet those standards.

In addition, working with a staffing partner can help. Your staffing firm can help you minimize burnout to improve attendance and motivation, fill last-minute call-offs and replace problem employees with candidates who offer a better fit with your office's culture.