4 Questions You Should Be Asking Your Absent Employees

Manager talking to construction worker about absences

When an employee is absent, you need to know what kind of absence and when the employee will return to the office. When you have that information, you can cover their shift and make sure work continues as planned. But that’s not all. You also need to track used time off against accruals and determine if an employees’ absence requires follow-up action, such as a disability leave or workers compensation claim.

According to the CDC Foundation, productivity losses linked to absenteeism cost roughly $1,685 per employee per year. To maintain productivity, it’s essential to keep detailed time and attendance records and stay on top of employee absences.

To reduce confusion and the likelihood of disputes, here are the pertinent questions you should ask when employees request time off or call in sick:

  • What is the absence type?

  • What is the reason for the absence?

  • What is the expected duration of the absence?

  • Are there other details related to this absence?

What is the absence type?

Employee absences can fall into many categories, and each has different implications for how you plan for a replacement. For example, you need to know whether employees are using accrued vacation time or if they’re sick and might be out for an unknown number of days.

To make it easier for employees to reply, it’s a good idea to establish standardized answers employees can select from a dropdown or other list. Possible absence types include the following:

  • Vacation time

  • Personal day

  • Family medical leave

  • Sick time

  • Other unplanned absence

What is the reason for the absence?

On the surface, it may seem that the absence type is the same as asking about the reason for an absence, for example, if an employee is calling in sick. However, if the sickness is due to a work accident or injury, or if an employee has COVID-19 symptoms, you need to know.

The Americans with Disabilities Act limits the questions employers can ask employees who are absent due to illness, but it does permit disability-related questions if they are related to an employee’s job. Moreover, during the COVID-19 pandemic, the EEOC permits employers to ask employees if an absence is due to the presence of COVID-19 symptoms, such as fever, chills, cough, shortness of breath, or sore throat.

Here are some possible absence reasons employees could select when replying to this question:

  • Pre-planned time off

  • Personal emergency

  • Work-related illness or accident

  • COVID-19 symptoms

  • Other disability

What is the expected duration of the absence?

When employees request time off for a vacation, it’s easy to know when they will return to work. Buf for unexpected absences, the return-to-work date is sometimes less clear. By asking employees when they expect to return to work, you can put together a tentative plan for making sure you have ample shift coverage during their absence.

To track employee absences as accurately as possible, it’s advisable to make sure you give employees the ability to record their absence duration down to the hour to accurately track as much information as possible.

Hour durations That way, whether employees will be out the whole day or just a few hours, they can respond to this question. You can allow employees to enter the number of hours or workdays they will be absent, or you can provide an option to enter a day and time of the expected return-to-work date. For employees who are unsure of their return, you can allow them to select an “undetermined” or similar response.

Are there other details related to this absence?

Sometimes there is additional information about an absence that employees want to convey, but it doesn’t fit well into the other absence questions. For example, employees may have physician-ordered work restrictions after returning to work, such as limits to how much weight they can lift after surgery. In such cases, it makes sense to give employees the option of providing additional information.

Improve Absence Tracking With a Customizable Text-Based Questionnaire

Managing your employees for optimal productivity requires having a way to easily and accurately track employee absences. Instead of having employees call in using the telephone or an app they may have trouble downloading, employees can use the text feature on their phone.

The TeamSense text-based call-in solution allows you to collect employee responses to standardized absence questions so you know when employees are absent, when they will return, and other important details. You can also configure the service to notify others, for example, HR, when an employee's absence may lead to a claim for disability or FMLA leave.

Once employees text “Off” to 59230, the TeamSense solution automatically delivers your customized absence questionnaire, and you get actionable information to help you cover shifts and keep your operations running smoothly.

Melanie Haniph

Melanie Haniph is an HR content writer and talent management expert. In addition to her experience leading HR initiatives for large and small organizations, she writes on a range of talent management topics for senior executive, HR, and jobseeker audiences.

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