Is absenteeism a problem in your workplace? It’s a tough problem to tackle, especially because employee absences can occur for so many varied reasons. Let’s take a look first at some of the laws that affect the way employers may handle employee absences, and then we’ll review a few tips on how to manage or reduce absenteeism.
Laws that Relate to Employee Absences
Employers must always remember that no matter what the organization’s absence policy is, there are federal, state, and local laws that may affect how certain types of employee absences must be addressed. Here are some of the laws that could come into play, depending on the reason for the absence.
- The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). For any employer that qualifies under the FMLA, employee absences related to serious health conditions may be covered by FMLA leave. The FMLA also covers absences to care for family members with serious health conditions and other certain situations.
- The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The ADA may cover some absences that result from treatments for disabilities or in cases where a leave of absence is a form of reasonable accommodation.
- The Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA). USERRA covers servicemembers who must leave for military service; these employees may leave and still have job protection (within the confines of the regulation).
- Workers’ Compensation. Workers’ compensation laws allow employees to be absent from the workplace to recover from workplace injury or illness.
- Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. Title VII generally applies toward non-discrimination, but this extends to allowing absences for religious purposes if doing so would be a reasonable accommodation for a religious belief or religious observation.
- Jury Duty. Under federal law, employers must allow absences for jury duty and may not retaliate against employees who are absent for this reason.
Remember, there are also laws at the state and municipal level that could impact absences—be sure to familiarize yourself with these local laws as well.
Tips for Managing and Reducing Employee Absenteeism
Beyond legal compliance, there are steps employers can take to better manage or reduce employee absenteeism. Here are a few tips:
- Be sure attendance expectations are clearly set. Some absences and tardiness can be attributed to simple misunderstandings about the time work should begin. The solution may be as simple as creating a clear attendance policy if one does not already exist. Setting expectations also requires clear communications about the policy and the repercussions of absences.
- It’s also important to decide the level of tracking the organization deems necessary regarding absences. For example, will every absence be tracked and the reason noted? Will tardiness count against the employee’s allowed absences, or will tardiness be handled separately?
- Enforce the attendance policy consistently. This is more difficult than it sounds. It can be tempting to allow more absences than the attendance policy outlines when employees are facing difficult situations. While an employer is, of course, free to do so, it’s better to have a policy that has flexibility built into it so that it can be implemented consistently and not incite claims of favoritism or discrimination when it’s applied differently for different individuals.
- This issue is especially hard to control across different managers or different divisions. One manager may be more lenient on recording tardiness and absences, for example, while another may be “by the book” on all matters, which can lead to resentment if employees see this inconsistent behavior. All supervisors and managers should be trained on how to implement the attendance policy consistently.
- Ensure all employees know what to do when they need to be late or miss a day. Workers should know when and who to call and what information needs to be provided. They should also understand what documentation, if any, they will be required to provide to the employer upon return (e.g., a doctor’s note).
- Assess the amount of paid time off that is allowed. Is it enough for most employees to handle all of their nonwork obligations and stay physically and mentally healthy? If not, a first step in reducing unplanned absences may be to allow more planned absences. While this may not reduce the total time away from work, it can reduce the unplanned nature of employee call-outs when employees feel empowered and able to schedule enough absences without penalty (i.e., they don’t have to call in sick for something that is not an illness).
- Consider implementing programs designed to improve employee wellness. For example, in addition to standard employee wellness programs, a business might include employee assistance programs (EAPs) or other initiatives aimed at reducing stress or helping employees in some other capacity.
- Ensure managers understand that absences often come at times that employees are experiencing hardships. Compassion can go a long way.
- Remember that employees may need assistance getting back to work. This might include light-duty options or the option to work from home during the transition, for example.
- Work to keep employees motivated and engaged. Satisfied employees are less likely to abuse an absence policy.
- Consider rewarding good attendance. Be sure not to penalize those who have taken protected leave, but consider implementing rewards that encourage good attendance practices, as these can be good motivators. This can even be as simple as providing positive feedback and encouragement to employees with good attendance.
- Consider changing schedules when appropriate to accommodate differing employee needs. Sometimes a small schedule change can eliminate problems.
Have you had to deal with problematic attendance issues? What worked best in your organization for reducing absences?
This article does not constitute legal advice. Always consult legal counsel with specific questions.
About Bridget Miller:
Bridget Miller is a business consultant with a specialized MBA in International Economics and Management, which provides a unique perspective on business challenges. She’s been working in the corporate world for over 15 years, with experience across multiple diverse departments including HR, sales, marketing, IT, commercial development, and training.