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Written policies on absenteeism benefit everyone involved

What do you do about an employee who is always calling in sick or showing up late due to one health problem or another?

The answer isn't an easy one. If your employees are entitled to coverage under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), you are required to give an employee a lot of leeway if he or she suffers from a serious health issue. The Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) can also obligate you to make some accommodations, although the definition of what qualifies as a disability under the ADA is more restrictive.

Even if those two laws aren't in play, however, you might want to consider the ramifications of coming down hard on an otherwise good employee who is struggling with some health problems. It could affect your overall credibility with your other employees if you are perceived as uncaring.

Just the same, you can't let it become merely acceptable for your employees to wander in late to work or to take off early with little or no oversight. That's also going to damage productivity and morale.

This is exactly why employers write out policies, including possible disciplinary steps that might be taken, before the situation arises. A well-crafted policy on sick leave should be part of the employee handbook -- which should be given to every employee.

Some of the most important things that a policy should address include:

  • Exactly who the employee is to contact when he or she must be late or absent
  • How much notice is generally required if the absence is not unexpected on the part of the employee
  • What documentation must be provided if the employee is suffering from a chronic or temporary condition that is responsible for repeated attendance problems
  • The steps that will be taken if the absenteeism becomes problematic, including warnings and reviews, before termination

Having a written policy can do more than just give you a structure for your attendance policy -- it can create a company culture of mutual respect between employer and employees. You benefit by having a policy in place that gives clear expectations. Your employees benefit by understanding what it takes to keep their jobs and the clear knowledge that you'll be supportive if they have a serious problem. It also reduces the overall possibility of disparate treatment or disability discrimination.

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