Controlling Absenteeism

I often get questions from employers about firing employees for absenteeism. Like any good employment attorney, I ask the employer about the scope of the problem. How many absences has the employee taken? What were the reasons for the absenteeism? What sort of verbal and written warnings has the employee received for absenteeism?

Astonishingly, I usually discover that the employer hasn’t tracked the number of absences, issued any warnings to the employee to correct their behavior and doesn’t even know if the employee has used up all of his paid time off. Often, I am simply getting a call because the employee is absent that day and the boss is upset over it because the employee has missed “a lot”.

You can reduce absenteeism in your company, but it requires some consistent effort on your part. Here are some steps to consider:

  1. Give your employees a reasonable amount of paid time off (“PTO”) each year that can be taken for whatever emergency or need arises. Generally, for full-time employees that have been with the company more than one year,  a total of 15-20 days per year is sufficient to cover vacations, sick days, kids’ school activities, funerals, and all the other ways in which real life intrudes.
  2. Prepare a written policy that explains your PTO procedures. Include a statement along the lines of, “Employees are provided sufficient PTO for all foreseeable and unforeseeable reasons to be absent. Therefore, any absences that are not covered by the company’s PTO policy, other than Family and Medical Leave (“FMLA”) and civic duties like voting or jury duty, will be considered to constitute excessive absenteeism and will result in disciplinary action up to and including termination of employment.”
  3. Keep track of absences every single day. This seems so simple, yet is violated so often. If I can’t prove in court with clear documentation exactly how many days your employee missed, I can’t prove that the reason for her termination was absenteeism rather than discrimination based on age, sex, race, etc.
  4. Be prepared to enforce your policy, beginning with the first absence after all of an employee’s PTO is exhausted. I don’t care if the employee needs to go to the doctor (unless employee is on FMLA), has a flat tire or just can’t recover from last night’s binge, if he has exhausted his PTO, you need to start progressive discipline. Give him a verbal warning (which you document for your files). The next time he misses, give him a written warning that lets him know he is in danger of losing his job. With the third absence, suspension or termination should be imposed, after you call your employment lawyer to review the reasons for the absences and get the legal green light to fire.

Leave a Reply