It’s the morning after Mardi Gras, and Joe calls in sick. You were expecting it—after all, he was sick the Friday before a long weekend, and the Monday after the big game. Joe’s not alone – 2007 research from time and attendance software provider Kronos suggested that approximately 7 million U.S. workers call in “sick” after the Super Bowl each year.
While employees may not realize the consequences of their behavior to the organization, excessive absences have a significant impact on workplace productivity. In a small business, these effects are even more noticeable, because the size of the company means the work can’t always be redistributed among other employees. And no matter the size of the company, morale is affected when coworkers have to pick up the slack of a routinely absent worker. But by dealing with attendance issues as soon as they arise, managers can control the issue and reduce the negative effects on the business.
Step One: Documentation
Record the employee’s absences to see if any obvious trends or patterns exist. It can be helpful to create a chart to record the days, or use specific colors to annotate a printed monthly calendar. Visually representing the leave will help you identify if a pattern of absences is occurring—and it can also be a reality check for the employee to see his leave documented in that way.
Check if he always calls out on the same days, before or after the weekend, or around major events. Determine how long the pattern has been occurring and see if you can identify the reason. More than one employee’s absences have conveniently coincided with the home games of the local baseball team.
Step Two: Consider the Family Medical Leave Act
Has the employee given you an excuse for his absences? If so, review the reasons to see if they are covered by the Family Medical Leave Act, or FMLA. Occasional sniffles and the common cold don’t qualify—but if your employee is suffering from migraines, he is likely to be entitled to family medical leave. Even if you don’t know the reason, a pattern of absences might indicate that the employee could qualify for intermittent leave. Give him the FMLA certification form for his doctor to complete.
Companies with 50 or more employees—or who have employed 50 or more workers for at least 20 weeks within the current or previous calendar year—are required to provide unpaid, protected leave to eligible staff members. The employee must have been employed for at least 12 months, worked a minimum of 1,250 hours in the previous 12 months, and be located at a worksite where at least 50 other company employees are also employed within a 75-mile radius.
Step Three: Meet with the Employee
Once you’ve prepared the chart and gathered the relevant paperwork, set a time to meet with the employee. Choose a private location and schedule a time when you won’t be interrupted.
- Conversation Tip Prepare the employee for the meeting by letting him know what you plan to discuss: “Joe, I’d like to meet with you at 3 today, in my office. I have some concerns about your attendance that I need to discuss with you.”
Tell the employee you’ve noticed he’s been absent frequently, and explain the effects his attendance has on the company as a whole.
- Conversation Tip“Joe, when you’re out, customers notice delays, and your coworkers have to take on the extra work. It makes it difficult for us to get the job done the way we need to.”
Share the chart with him and ask if he, too, notices a pattern to the leave. Ask him if there is an explanation for the pattern of absences. Keep a neutral tone and remain calm, avoiding judgments or accusations.
- Conversation Tip“As your supervisor, I keep records of your leave requests. I’d like you to take a look at this chart—it seems to me there’s a pattern to your unscheduled absences. Can you tell me why you’ve been absent on so many Monday mornings?”
Listen to the employee’s response and evaluate the situation. Provide him with any relevant paperwork, such as the FMLA certification form, relevant workers compensation papers if he alleges an injury caused on the job, or a referral to the employee assistance program if it’s appropriate and your company uses one.
Step Four: Potential Accommodations
Sometimes the employee will reveal a reason for leave that may be protected by either the FMLA or the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). For example, if the employee provides care for a sick or disabled relative and is required to transport them to treatment on Wednesday mornings. The treatment center doesn’t open until 8:00 a.m.— the time the employee is due to start work. As a result, the employee is late or calls in every Wednesday. A situation like this can be easily accommodated in most workplaces by adjusting his start time to 8:15 or 8:30. However, in certain cases—perhaps where the worker is the only employee, required to open the doors for business at 8:00—an unreasonable hardship might occur. Carefully evaluate all possible options for accommodation on a case-by-case basis.
- Conversation Tip“I want to work with you to resolve this problem. What suggestions do you have for making sure the issue doesn’t continue? Is there anything we can do to help you achieve it?”
Step Five: Requiring Improvement
If the employee does not provide a justified or protected reason for his attendance problems, inform him of the consequences of continued absenteeism. Make sure he realizes that continued excessive or undocumented absences could lead to disciplinary action, and even cost him his job. Consider requiring the worker to produce a doctor’s note for each unscheduled absence from the workplace, otherwise he will be considered absent without leave. Put this requirement in writing, or include it in a performance improvement plan*, with other documented expectations for improvement, such as calling in to speak to a live person, and reducing the number of unscheduled absences. Review the plan periodically—at 30, 60 and 90 days—to determine if the employee’s attendance has improved. This isn’t a permanent solution—once a sustained improvement has been observed, you can remove the verification requirement or graduate the employee from the performance plan.
- Conversation Tip“From now on, I’m instructing you to bring a doctor’s note every time you call out sick. We’ll meet again in 30 days to review your progress and I’ll let you know then if this requirement will continue.”
Step Six: Disciplinary Action
If you’ve ruled out FMLA and ADA, and the employee still fails to improve, despite counseling, performance improvement plans and any accommodations you provide, it’s time to take further disciplinary action, up to and including dismissal from employment. If you discover the employee was dishonest about his leave, this is also a reason for discipline.
Things to Consider:
- Make sure your company has a strong sick leave policy, emphasizing that verification may be required.
- Check that employees are aware of the call-in requirements.
- Lead by example. You can’t expect your employees to adhere to a strict attendance policy if you continually flout it yourself.
Don’t discipline an employee with an attendance problem by suspending him—it’s not usually an effective resolution to the problem.
Note: With business management in mind, we understand that our readers not only need compliance topic blogs, but office communications as well. This entry was previously published on our HR Tips Newsletter. This is just one of the many benefits we offer to our Compliance Management Service members. Learn more here: http://www.laborlawcenter.com/c-211-compliance-management-services.aspx
In the state of Georgia, they’ve gone digital when it comes to reporting new hires. That is a good thing for human resource departments who are capable of handling this aspect of the labor law on the Web. It works by having to download the electronic software off of the Georgia government’s Web site that allows you to communicate with their new hire reporting bureau online.
Of course, not all employers, including perhaps yourself, are ready to take that leap. There are all sorts of technical issues you’d have to deal with, such as whether you have the Internet connection that’s fast enough to make the transfer of information worth your while over the Internet.
Then there are a whole host of privacy issues that we could get into. Don’t even get me started! Kidding aside, of course, you’d have to trust your connection and the state of Georgia’s online feed with all of this very personal information about your employees and about your company. Remember—hackers abound on the Internet.
Online fraud and theft is still one of the fastest growing crimes in the country, and can explain why many employers have employee files as hard copy backups for much of their personnel files, or even as their primary source of data storage.
That’s why Georgia still allows employers to report their new hires the old fashioned way, through non-electronic reporting methods. Through this method, you can use your own new hire form or file, a government W-4 form, you payroll forms, or other similar forms, as long as they contain the important basics about the new employee: their name, your federal employer identification number and address, and their address.
When you have all of this organized and ready to send to the state of Georgia, you can simply fax or mail the form to the appropriate state office.