HR Administration

Is your employee attendance policy and procedure fit for purpose?

By Dan Whitehead

Dec. 5, 2022


  • Lateness and absenteeism are early warning signs of a deteriorating attendance policy. — More

  • No-call, no-shows are becoming increasingly prevalent. Every organization needs a clear-cut procedure to mitigate the repercussions of them. — More

  • Automating the way you collect attendance data helps solidify your attendance policy. — More

Dealing with employee attendance can be tricky. You need your team to respect your company’s start time and adhere to predefined work hours. And you need to implement corrective action in the case of tardiness and no-shows. Any disciplinary action needs to be taken at the time and level that best suits your work environment and culture. 

Employee absenteeism and tardiness are bad news for any business and can reduce overall productivity and work quality. 

This is where having a comprehensive employee attendance policy is essential. It informs your employees of what is expected from them, and it helps your human resources team adhere to predefined discipline processes. 

The rise of remote and hybrid work due to the COVID-19 pandemic has made it even more complex to define and monitor work schedules. Businesses that already have company attendance policies will likely need to revise them to take these changes into consideration.     

Lateness is your early warning system

A one-off instance of lateness may be understandable, but if it becomes a recurring problem, it can be an early warning of potentially serious issues with a worker, team, or department.

Tardiness is the most common time and attendance issue facing businesses. Studies have shown that, on average, a quarter of US employees report being late for work at least once a month. Younger employees are more likely to struggle with punctuality — 38% of those aged 34 or younger are late once a month or more. On the other hand, only 14% of workers aged 44 or older turn up late to work at least once a month. Almost half of US employers — 43% — fire employees for lateness each year.

The key is not to focus on individual instances of lateness but instead identify problematic patterns and prevent them from becoming systemic. For example, there may be a specific employee who is persistently late. You may notice a particular department or location with repeated poor timekeeping. Using time and attendance software makes these patterns easy to spot and gives you data-backed insight into the problem.

Your employee time and attendance policy and procedures should insist that employees who are running late inform their manager within a clear time frame. Your policy should also clarify what frequency of lateness will incur penalties and what the disciplinary response will be. Given that lateness is so endemic, some companies build some leeway into their tardiness policy, allowing a 10-minute grace period before an employee is officially marked as late.

As long as managerial leniency doesn’t undermine your attendance policy, there are benefits to reaching out to persistently late employees to see if the company can help resolve the issues causing their problems. Implementing flexible work, such as shift swaps, can help with employee retention and reduce lateness.


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Absences require a nuanced approach

The cost of staff absence is much more visible than the cost of lateness. In January 2022 alone, 7.8 million US workers were absent from work due to health-related issues, such as injury, illness, or medical appointments. This is significantly higher than the 3.7 million workers who took sick leave a year earlier.   

At a strategic level, dealing with individual absences requires a nuanced approach. While granular attendance data is great for identifying problems, it should always be backed up with direct staff communication.

The latest US government statistics on employee absence show that the average absence rate nationwide was 3.2%. Excessive absenteeism above the national average suggests a problem with company culture. Either employees are unhappy in their work, or they are getting too comfortable with exploiting ineffective managerial attendance policies. 

The more detailed your data, the more precisely you’ll be able to identify the problem areas. If your company’s absence rate is noticeably lower than the average, say around 1.5%, that may not be cause for celebration. People will get sick, and the hidden risk of low absence rates suggests these sick people feel unable or afraid to request excused absences for sick days and are bringing their illness to work.

Know your absence rate

If you’re not using time and attendance software to keep track of your absence rate, it can easily be worked out by dividing the number of days or hours lost to absence by the number that should have been attended, then multiplying the result by 100. 

For example, an employee who is expected to complete 260 workdays per year but is absent for five of those days would have an absence rate of 1.9%. The same formula applies to individual workers, departments, or the whole business. You can now compare your absence rate to the national average to see how your business is faring.

Absence rates should always be considered in the context of absence frequency. For example, one worker may be off for 10 consecutive days. Another worker may call in sick on 10 Fridays during the year. Both would have the same absence rate, but the frequencies tell different stories — the first worker may have been seriously ill, while the second likes to have a long weekend. Your procedure should empower managers to take that into account when deciding what action to take.

That’s why it’s important to clarify which types of leave and absence you consider legitimate in your employee attendance policy. The policy should also specifically state how much warning employees are expected to give if they can’t come to work. For example, they should get in touch before 9:30 a.m. or at least an hour before they’re meant to clock in. You may require a doctor’s note after a certain amount of sick days, or you may have a different policy for emergencies or jury duty, for example. 

Of course, the day-to-day implementation of your absence policy will always be down to the manager’s discretion, but setting clear guidelines will prevent confusion on both sides. You will also need to familiarize yourself with and adhere to local, state, and federal laws, such as the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). This allows eligible employees to take unpaid and job-protected leave for certain medical situations. 

“No call, no shows” are the worst-case scenarios

A “no call, no show,” also known as an unexcused absence or unscheduled absence, is when an employee simply doesn’t turn up for their scheduled shift and gives their manager no warning. These are the most serious of all attendance infractions. The lack of notice exacerbates all the costs and inconveniences of a normal absence, which means it needs to be treated especially carefully and thoroughly.

In an economy struggling to deal with phenomena such as the Great Resignation and quiet quitting, maintaining regular attendance is more crucial than ever. There are 10.3 million job openings in the US right now, with hospitality and other shift-based roles especially affected. 

Team members with low employee morale have never been more empowered to simply walk away — sometimes without even going through a formal resignation procedure.

If an employee fails to show up for work on consecutive days with no contact, that is considered job abandonment and is widely seen as reason enough to fire them. Be sure to make it clear in your policy exactly how many days absent will count as abandonment. Three is generally considered standard, but check state case law for any local precedents that have been set.

Therefore, your employee attendance policy needs to be explicit about repercussions for a no-call, no-show absence. Some companies make it cause for immediate termination. Others use progressive, points-based discipline measures that usually go from a verbal warning to a written warning and eventual termination. Be careful assuming the worst, however. For a first-time offense, communicate with the employee. It may just be a hangover, or it could be an issue with a family member. Be firm, but check the facts before dropping the hammer.

Employee attendance policies and procedures protect your business

Once you have closed the gaps in your employee attendance policies and procedures, apply them consistently. Penalizing workers for lateness while always letting a manager leave early sets a bad precedent that can backfire. The more airtight your policies and procedures and the more accurate your attendance data, the less risk of legal exposure for your business.

Having an explicit procedure to follow is particularly important when job terminations are involved, as this is an area where unfair dismissal suits can become public and messy. For example, in 2020, there was a high-profile case of a Boeing employee who was given a “last chance agreement” following repeated attendance infractions. The employee then took time off and didn’t return to work afterward. He was fired, but he sued, saying he had been fired for taking the leave, not his attendance record.

Evidence of repeated clear infractions of an established policy, backed up by incontrovertible evidence of repeated lateness or non-attendance, was what convinced the 3rd Circuit Court to dismiss the case against Boeing—and the same combination of policy, procedure, and data is your best defense against this kind of suit as well.

Collecting good attendance data helps keep your policy airtight can not only gather that attendance data automatically, but it can also alert managers to staff that repeatedly fail to show up on time. This automation gives managers actionable data they can use to stay ahead of frontline issues. 

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If you are ready to see what can do to help your time and attendance policy, book a call with us today or try the platform for free. 

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