How to develop a call-out policy that reduces business impact

By Hsing Tseng

Oct. 18, 2022


  • Practice compassion and consistency when handling call-outs and disciplinary action

  • Clearly communicate call-out policy across your workforce so staff and managers are on the same page

  • Streamline the call-out process with mobile-first scheduling 

Picture this: You’re looking at the clock. It’s 10 minutes before your employee is scheduled to come in for their shift — and, suddenly, your phone rings. It’s your employee calling to say something urgent came up, and they won’t be able to work. All your other team members have already requested the night off.

These kinds of scenarios put managers and supervisors in a dilemma. No business wants to operate understaffed, especially with a last-minute notice, but emergencies do sometimes happen.

Striking a balance between keeping your business running smoothly and letting employees call out when they really need to can be difficult. It’s important to have a call-out policy in place, so your entire team understands when it’s appropriate to call out and how to do so in a way that helps the business work around their absences.

Create a clear and comprehensive call-out policy

Your call-out policy should clarify everything that your team needs to know about calling out so that there’s no room for misunderstanding what’s allowed and what’s not. Putting your policies and procedures into words builds accountability and sets clear expectations on what employees need to do in order to call out. Including these five elements ensures that your call-out policy covers everything your employees need to know:

  1. Definitions: Define “call out” – specifically, an employee informing you that they’re unable to work their scheduled shift as planned. Define tardiness vs. absence — someone calling to say they’ll be late versus not working at all. You should also clarify the difference between excused and unexcused absences and what criteria you use to excuse absences. For example, absences due to medical or family emergencies should be excused, but call-outs without notice and a legitimate reason should not. 
  2. Deadlines: What is the latest time before their shift that an employee can call out in order to be excused from work? You might ask employees to call out at least eight hours before their shift starts to receive an excused absence without reason, or they can call out at any time if it’s a valid emergency.
  3. Procedure: Explain how employees should submit a formal call-out request – via phone call, email, text message, or app. Who is responsible for getting their shift covered – the employee or management? Does an employee who calls out need to follow up and provide documentation or proof, like a signed doctor’s note?
  4. Records: Explain how you track attendance and shift changes across your team for visibility – for example, timekeeping and scheduling software, paper timecards, or a retail point-of-sale system.
  5. Consequences: Describe what circumstances require disciplinary action, like reaching a certain number of absences, and what penalties employees may receive. Set a limit on unexcused absences and how many will be considered job abandonment.

Keep your call-out policy simple and easy to comprehend using simple language instead of legal jargon. Walk through all of your procedures clearly, including visual how-to guides if necessary, so that employees know exactly how to call out of work while following company policy.

Treat your employees with compassion

Nobody wants to call out if it means they’ll lose their job, even if they need to call out. But you also don’t want employees fighting through hazardous weather to come to work or struggling with a personal health matter while trying to be productive. Exercising compassion and empathy puts support structures in place so that your employees can call out of work when they need to while still following the policy. 

The key to a compassionate call-out procedure is to offer flexibility as long as employees give notice as soon as possible and can provide a good reason for their absence. Include specific wording in your documentation that allows you to excuse absences for additional reasons outside of those explicitly given in your policy.

An employee experiencing a medical emergency or car trouble right before their shift might choose a “no call, no show” if they know that they won’t be excused from work for calling out too late. But if you’re willing to excuse call-outs in these extenuating circumstances, that employee would make sure you knew why they weren’t able to show up. This lets you plan around their absence more effectively because you know about it before the fact instead of after it has already happened.

Your call-out policy should prioritize your employees’ well-being and build mutual respect for both company and employee time. Give employees a certain number of sick days or personal days that they can use to call out of work at their discretion. Tell employees that you’d prefer them to be safe and call out of work than to come in under less-than-ideal circumstances. 

Create a company culture that encourages employees to communicate their needs and put themselves first. In turn, you’ll have a workforce that has more trust in their management and communicates in a timely, transparent manner when they need to take a day off.

Apply disciplinary action fairly and consistently

There’s a fine line between using disciplinary action to assign accountability and using it to punish your employees. The difference comes down to how fair the consequences are and how consistently the rules are applied.

Whatever consequences employees receive should be proportionate to how disruptive their absences are to the business. Employees who frequently call out at the last minute without a justified reason should receive more scrutiny than those who only call out once every few months. Similarly, an unexcused, no-call, no-show absence is more serious than an employee who calls out and gets their shift covered by a co-worker.

Every employee’s situation is unique, so it can be difficult to apply the rules fairly across all circumstances. An attendance point system can remove bias from attendance tracking. With a point system, employees might accrue a certain number of points for excused absences and more for unexcused absences. These points can expire or be removed from employee records over time, ensuring that only employees who excessively miss work or call out late are flagged for disciplinary action. 

Whenever you discipline employees, make sure that those consequences are justified, backed up with evidence of unexcused absences and call-outs. Don’t display favoritism toward employees with higher seniority or longer tenure; all employees should respect the company’s call-out policy equally.

Educate employees on your call-out policy

You can’t expect employees to comply with rules if they don’t even know what those rules are. That’s why it’s important to make sure your workers understand your call-out policy well before you expect them to follow it.

Make sure that all company policies are available and readily accessible to employees. Post your call-out policy on a staff bulletin board and send it to all employees via email. Add it to your employee handbook, and then ensure that all workers have a copy. Remind employees frequently about your call-out policy, especially during time periods when they’re more likely to take time off, like a holiday, spring break, or flu season.

Ensure that all managers understand the call-out policy thoroughly so that they can accurately answer any questions from their team members. Hold training sessions as necessary for managers on your call-out policy. Go over the difference between excused and unexcused absences, what kind of disciplinary actions are appropriate, and how to document call-outs. Educating both your managers and employees so that everyone knows what’s expected of them makes your call-out policy more likely to succeed. 

Fill call-outs faster with the right tools

In an ideal world, employees would never need to call out, but in reality, things happen. Put tools and policies in place to help you expect the unexpected and navigate unforeseen circumstances with ease. The right scheduling solutions can help automate the process of backfilling call-outs, proactively reducing the impact absenteeism has on your bottom line. empowers both managers and workers to deal with call-outs efficiently while staying in close communication throughout the process. Shift swaps enable employees to take ownership of calling out. Meanwhile, managers have the option to reassign shifts, offer shift bids, or even remove them if no coverage is available.

If you’re in HR and having a hard time enforcing an efficient call-out policy, here’s what you can do to back control.

For more info, go ahead and contact one of our workforce management pros today.

Schedule, engage, and pay your staff in one system with