Managing tardiness and sick employees

Posted by Bradley Metz on 9/14/17 2:22 PM

Absenteeism and tardiness can have a significant impact on an eye care practice, including lost productivity, increased overtime costs, and elevated stress among the employees left to pick up the slack. To help manage these issues, it is a best practice for all employers to have written policies and procedures in place governing attendance and punctuality.

The following are several helpful hints for managing absenteeism and tardiness:

  • Develop a policy.  An attendance and punctuality policy should stress the importance of regular attendance, identify requirements and procedures for scheduling time off in advance, outline call-in procedures for unexpected absences, and cover potential consequences for policy violations. It should go without saying that this policy should be transparent and included in your employee hiring manual.

  • Take a balanced approach. Overly strict rules and policies may be counterproductive and may encourage employees to come into work even though they are sick or incapable of performing at the expected level. Excessively rigid policies may also unlawfully discourage employees from using leave to which they are entitled for legitimate purposes. Ensure that there is middle ground in your sick policy. The last thing you want is for an infectious employee to come into the office and infect your staff and patients creating even more lost hours; although any extended sick time should be justified by a doctors note.

  • Review time off policies. Consider blanket PTO instead of "sick" and "vacation" days. Consider reviewing leave of absence and time off policies on a regular basis to ensure they are effectively meeting business needs. For example, if you offer generous sick leave but too little vacation, some employees may “call in sick” when they are actually taking a vacation day. This is one of the reasons some employers have moved to a paid time off (PTO) program. With PTO plans, there are no distinctions between vacation, personal days, or sick leave.  This allows employees more flexibility in scheduling time off.

  • Flexible work arrangements. Flexible work schedules and telecommuting may help employees better manage their work and personal responsibilities and ultimately limit the number of unplanned absences. While flexible work arrangements may not be practical for every job, consider evaluating such requests on a case-by-case basis.

  • Address concerns promptly. Suspected patterns should be addressed promptly and consistently. Everyone gets sick, but after a pattern is established, a doctors visit or an explanation should be warranted. Allow employees to explain themselves, determine whether they have a legitimate reason for the absence or repeated lateness, and then decide whether disciplinary action is appropriate.

  • Consider protected forms of leave. It’s important to note that employees who take leave to which they are entitled under a federal, state, or local law (e.g., jury duty, family medical leave, etc.) are generally protected from adverse action for such absences. In other words, employers may not penalize employees for absences that are protected by these laws.

  • Consider requiring documentation. If an absence lasts longer than a certain period of time (e.g., two-three consecutive days), employers may consider asking employees to provide documentation regarding the reason for an absence, such as a doctor’s note. Note: The Americans with Disabilities Act, the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act, and many state laws give employees certain privacy rights and may limit the information an employer can request from an employee. Employers should make sure that any documentation requirement complies with these, and all applicable, laws. Generally, a doctors note falls within the realm of appropriatness. 

  • Ensure accurate time reporting.  Maintaining accurate time and attendance records is critical to properly implementing attendance policies.  As such, it is a best practice to implement a policy that stresses the importance of accurate timekeeping and to maintain a timekeeping system that records work time to the minute. Employers should also communicate the potential consequences of falsifying time records.

It is a best practice to set clear standards regarding attendance and punctuality through written policies. Those policies should be drafted in compliance with federal, state, and local laws and with the company’s business needs in mind. Supervisors should also receive training on administering and enforcing attendance and leave of absence policies.