Absenteeism, including excessive late arrivals and early departures, is a major problem across multiple industries. It adversely affects productivity and business outcomes, and it can completely cripple large front-line operations that depend on manual labor or shift work.
What is considered excessive absenteeism?
Some amount of absenteeism is to be expected when running a business. From scheduled absences such as vacation days, to unscheduled absences, such as sick days, there are times when workers have legitimate reasons to take time off of work.
Employee absences become excessive when they fall above a normal level of absenteeism or they become unreasonable. There is no established definition governing excessive absences so determining what qualifies as excessive involves an evaluation based on facts and circumstances.
To determine if the absences are unreasonable you’ll need to base your decision on the underlying reason for the absence, your company’s policies and procedures regarding time off, and the normal level of absences expected in your industry or at your worksite.
In determining whether an absence is excessive, you can also look at data. According to the Academy to Innovate HR (AIHR), “[a]s a rule of thumb, 1.5% of aggregated absence is illness-related,” meaning that typically, anything above that 1.5% threshold is because of non-illness related reasons, such as personal issues or work conflicts.
How to discuss the problem of absenteeism:
Clearly communicate policies and procedures upfront
Show employees you care. Find out why they are absent.
Address the issue right away, in real-time.
Constantly, fairly apply a points or progressive disciplinary system.
Praise and reward good attendance, and acknowledge improvements.
Clearly communicate attendance policies and absence procedures
Don’t wait for chronic attendance issues to emerge to address requirements and make your expectations clear. Proactively improving your employee handbook policies can help you avoid and mitigate absenteeism.
The main policies that impact absenteeism include time and attendance, disability accommodation, leaves of absence, ethical conduct, and disciplinary actions.
Your employee handbook policies should:
Be easy to understand and communicate (in your workforce’s primary language).
Always be approved by a labor attorney licensed to practice in your state.
Be clear on the procedure and expectations for calling out.
Be emphasized upfront as part of new hire orientation.
Attendance and punctuality should also be listed as essential parts of each employee's job duties. (This is especially important for dealing with unreasonable disability accommodation requests).
Employees should also receive occasional reminders about the policies and procedures and where to find them. A practice of forcing employees to sign acknowledgments of policies they’ve never seen or can’t access is ineffective and actually creates additional liability for your organization.
Once the handbook policies are explained, all employees should acknowledge the policies in a way that clearly shows they are the person acknowledging them (e.g. wet or electronic signature, digital signature, SMS acknowledgment, etc.).