Increases in absenteeism and tardiness can be especially frustrating when they involve exempt salaried employees because many practices often used to curb those issues may not be permitted. Although it is generally understood that some tactics—e.g., docking an employee’s pay—should not be used to curb chronic absenteeism or tardiness, there are a few other options employers can try to tackle the problem.
Beware of Docking Pay
It can be very tempting to dock an exempt employee’s pay for constant tardiness or absences. However, caution should be exercised. Under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), exempt employees must be paid on a salaried basis for each week in which they perform any work regardless of the quantity of work, and their salaries are not subject to reduction based on the quality or quantity of work. So, with limited exceptions, you should not dock an exempt employee’s pay because she is tardy or misses work, even if she does so chronically.
When and how an employer may adjust an exempt employee’s pay for absences often depends on the circumstances. For example, you may dock pay for full-day absences if an employee is absent for personal reasons other than sickness or disability, but you may not adjust pay for absences of less than a full day. You may dock an employee’s accrued paid leave for partial-day absences, but if an employee does not have any accrued leave, her salary may not be reduced. Once a salaried employee’s accrued paid leave has been exhausted, she must be paid for the entire day. The nuances of docking pay for absenteeism are significant, so to avoid penalties, the best course of action is to seek advice before docking pay.
Clocking in and Out
Employers are permitted to require exempt employees to clock in and out each day. Such timekeeping methods and tracking systems can be effective in reminding employees that their timely presence at work is important. They can often be used as a simple reminder to avoid absenteeism and tardiness issues. Of course, such systems must be used across the board. Singling out an employee or requiring a specific individual to clock in and out is sure to lead to problems or claims of improper or different treatment. Thus, it is important to use a timekeeping system in a universal fashion. It is also important to note that timekeeping systems cannot be used to adjust or reduce an employee’s pay except in very limited circumstances.
One of the most effective ways to tackle tardiness and attendance issues is to implement a clear written attendance policy that applies (and is implemented) equally to all employees. The policy must be made available to all employees so they have fair warning of the standards to which they will be held. Once you have in place a policy clearly describing the type of discipline that can and will occur for absenteeism or tardiness, you are entirely within your rights to apply the policy, so long as it is applied equally and in a nondiscriminatory fashion. Discipline can include termination. However, be sure to keep detailed records of absences and tardiness, and be careful to exclude absences or tardiness that results from a disability, approved sick leave, or other excused leave.
A twist on an attendance policy is to reward employees for exceptional promptness and for not missing work. For example, an employer can include guidelines for extra compensation for 100 percent attendance for certain periods of time or other nominal rewards for good attendance. A reward is positive reinforcement of the importance of attendance, and it can often help combat absenteeism and tardiness before they start.
Absenteeism and tardiness are issues employers must deal with in virtually all lines of work. There are laws governing employers’ ability to deal with absenteeism and tardiness issues, and employers questioning their current attendance policies or practices should seek advice as soon as possible. Although docking the pay of exempt employees is generally discouraged, there are many methods employers can use to improve attendance at work, including using incentives and discipline. But one thing is sure: Reviewing your company’s current policies and making sure they are being implemented equally and regularly will serve your best interest.