Employer Obligations for Employee Absence Management

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Obligations of employers regarding their employees' absence.For some companies, employee absenteeism may not seem like much of an issue. Sure, there might be a tardiness issue. Perhaps there’s a team member who’s a bit of a straggler. There’s Jim from accounting, who has worked for the company for 30 years and “hits bad traffic every morning.” The problem is that Jim has hit bad traffic every morning for 30 years.

But what happens if your business requires precision and efficiency? What if the person who unlocks the company’s doors comes in late every once in a while starts coming in late at least once a month, then once a week? What obligations do you, as an employer, have to yourself and your team?

In this blog post, the Smithey Law Group LLC team will help you understand the perils and pitfalls of employee absenteeism and the impact it can have on your business. We’ll also walk you through what an employer’s obligation is for managing employee absence. Finally, we’ll discuss some tips and tricks to help balance employer obligations with employee needs.

What Is Absenteeism?

“Employee absenteeism” is defined as a frequent failure to attend work without valid cause—like illness or injury. It can also mean an absence taken without approved time off. Absenteeism does not include instances beyond an employee’s control, like emergencies, illnesses, or car trouble. It also typically does not encompass the occasional no-call, no-show. These incidences can sometimes be chalked up to fluctuating schedules in shift work.

Over the last 10 years, employee absenteeism has risen, making employee absence management increasingly difficult. Employees are simply finding any reason to avoid work.

Employee absenteeism hurts not only individual employers but the economy as a whole. Productivity losses linked to absenteeism cost the economy approximately $3,600 for each hourly worker and $2,600 for each salaried worker every year. Employee absenteeism can also be difficult to address once it’s become a habit or accepted behavior by your team. It’s best to manage employee absences as quickly as possible.

Managing Employee Absence

Employee absenteeism can be difficult to address once the behavior becomes a part of your team’s culture. It’s much easier to never develop a bad habit rather than try to stop it after it’s begun. Rather than watch the costs of absenteeism eating away at your bottom line, try taking a proactive approach to managing employee absence. With the right policies, training, and discipline in place, employer absence management may become second nature instead of something you dread.

Attendance Policies

Employer obligations for employee absence start with setting clear expectations. Clear attendance policies go a long way to help in managing employee absences. Attendance policies should be easy. But in reality, fairly implementing them can be quite difficult.

Employers need to understand how to track and document employee attendance. They need to gather data and use that data to identify and fix employee absenteeism problems. What if an employee comes in 30 minutes late? What if they stay late to make up the time? Is there a way to capture whether they notified their manager of the fact that they’d be late and the reason for it? How can you distinguish a tardy arrival from an absence in the new system and policy?

It doesn’t matter how many employees you have. It doesn’t even matter if you have a human resources department. An official attendance policy makes employer absence management so much fairer and easier. Brainstorm consequences of different attendance issues like scheduled absences, unscheduled absences, and tardiness. Decide any necessary disciplinary actions for violations of your policy around each. Most employers don’t need complicated policies—just fair and objective ones. The best policies typically define each type of absence and the consequences of violating the policy in plain language.

Manager Training

One key to effectively managing employee absence is training managers to understand and fairly enforce attendance policies. Some basics managers should know include:

  • How to identify and maintain the correct levels of staffing for efficient operations;
  • Ways to apply the company call-out policy consistently;
  • How to understand different absence types (i.e., scheduled absences, unscheduled absences, tardies, no shows) and the consequences of each;
  • How to properly record leave or absences for each employee;
  • Ways to appropriately counsel employees about excessive absence; and
  • Ways to discipline chronically absent employees.

By creating a culture of effective line managers who are well-versed in the attendance policy, employers can help mitigate employee absenteeism.

Appropriate Discipline

Absences are inevitable. But when an employee calls in sick or fails to show up on a regular basis, address the situation right away. It’s one thing for a reliable employee to call in sick every now and again. It’s another thing for a chronically absent employee to have his grandmother die for the sixth time.

Once an absent employee returns to work, have a frank conversation about what’s expected of them. Review your official attendance policy with them, and confirm whether they will be put on a performance improvement plan.

Employer Obligations for Employee Absence

Don’t forget, there are many valid legal reasons for employee absences. These include legally protected absences like Family Medical Leave Act leave or Americans with Disabilities Act reasons. If you have an HR department, make sure your HR team has open dialogues with employees about leaves and benefits offered. If you don’t have an HR department, speak with a qualified employment legal matters lawyer about what your obligations may be to provide specific, protected leave to some of your employees.

How Smithey Law Group Can Help

At Smithey Law Group LLC, we represent employers and employees in matters all across the employment law spectrum. If you’re an employer struggling with developing HR policies, training your workforce, and understanding how to handle leaves of absence, contact us today. We’ve counseled employers across the Maryland and Washington, D.C. area, as well as nationwide, on some of today’s thorniest employment law issues. Contact our experienced attorneys today!

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Joyce Smithey, a seasoned employment and labor law attorney, has over 22 years of experience representing both employers and employees in Maryland and D.C. Her practice, rooted in a deep understanding of employment law, spans administrative hearings to federal litigation. Joyce's approach is comprehensive, focusing on protecting client interests while ensuring legal compliance. A Harvard graduate, her career began in Fortune 500 companies, transitioning to law after a degree from Boston University School of Law. Joyce's expertise is recognized by numerous awards, including Maryland’s Top 100 Women. At Smithey Law Group LLC, which she founded in 2018, Joyce continues to champion employment rights, drawing on her rich background in law and business.

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