Absenteeism Q&A

Follow these guidelines when determining whether to discipline an employee for his or her unexcused absence or designate the time off as FMLA leave.
How to handle excessive absences, tardiness

How to handle excessive absences, tardiness

Disciplining an employee for an unexcused absence is a touchy issue considering that the absence might be covered under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). Follow these guidelines when determining whether to discipline an employee for his or her unexcused absence or designate the time off as FMLA leave.

Q: How do I handle an employee''s excessive absenteeism or tardiness?

A: Before you do anything, remember that the FMLA has dramatically affected absenteeism policies. You may not discipline employees who are absent for a qualifying event under the Act. Further, an absence qualifying for leave under the Act may not be counted as an absence under a "no-fault" attendance policy.

In deciding whether to discipline an employee because of absences, you must first determine if the absences were legitimate. In trying to sort out the difference between an excused and an unexcused absence, you should look at several factors, including:

·               the reason for an employee''s absence;

·               the nature of the employee''s job;

·               whether the employee gave proper notice;

·               how the employee''s attendance record compares with that of fellow employees; and

·               whether the employee was warned that discipline would result if improvement wasn''t made in connection with the absences.

When determining the permissibility of an absence (as well as controlling absences in general), it is usually a good idea for an employee to be interviewed by his or her supervisor immediately upon returning to work to determine the true reason for the absence. The results of that interview can be recorded on a form that goes into the employee''s personnel file, ensuring that there is proper documentation and also providing a written history of absences for all employees.

If a violation of your absenteeism or attendance policies has occurred, disciplinary action is in order. Try to be as consistent as possible in enforcing those policies.

Before establishing an attendance control program, it is useful to review the pattern of employee attendance over the past few years. It is usually advisable for each department supervisor or manager to record absences and also maintain a central file with the human resource or personnel office.

It is important for you to allow "excused absences" when they are necessary. Overly stringent policies can result in resentment and harm employees'' productivity. Some employers try to avoid those negatives by making special allowances for hazardous weather conditions or other unforeseen contingencies that make it difficult for employees to get to work. One way of determining whether an absence should be excused under certain circumstances is to find out how many employees were affected by taking a head count at the end of the day.

Probably the most effective control on excessive absenteeism and tardiness is to establish definite standards. The policy should be as specific as possible, including a definite statement on how many absences and times of tardiness will be permitted before disciplinary action is taken. Supervisors as well as employees must be aware of those policies. The employee should not be in the position of being able to argue that the employer''s policies on absences and tardiness were unclear.

Once the policy is established, it is essential that the policy be enforced consistently and on a timely basis. If you fail to do that, there will be charges of favoritism or complaints that the rules were not enforced in the past. If an oral warning fails to do the job, a written warning will often have its intended effect. If the employee fails to abide by the specified policies, you will be on solid ground in taking further disciplinary action, including termination.

Copyright 2000 M. Lee Smith Publishers LLC.

This article is an excerpt from Arkansas Employment Law Letter, written by the law firm of Jack, Lyon & Jones, P.A., based in Little Rock, Arkansas. Arkansas Employment Law Letter should not be construed as legal advice or a legal opinion on any specific facts or circumstances. The contents are intended for general information purposes only. Anyone needing specific legal advice should consult an attorney.

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