To be at work or not to be at work? That is the question.

While employees across the country face this dilemma daily, business owners should do everything humanly possible to reduce unexcused absences. And for good reason: Unplanned absenteeism significantly impacts morale and profitability.

Before we go any further, ask yourself a question: Do you encourage unexcused time off by ignoring it? Be honest. Raise your hand if you’ve ever let someone slide when he or she was tardy or called in sick. While turning the other cheek is definitely easier than addressing the issue, you’re also sending a message that unplanned time off is acceptable. Instead, it’s wiser to create a culture of accountability where everyone understands that last-minute absenteeism should be a rarity, not the norm.

According to the 2016 CareerBuilder annual survey on employee absenteeism, 35% of workers surveyed called in sick when they were perfectly healthy.

Understand the difference between excused and unexcused absences

You expect workers to miss a certain number of days each year in the form of vacation or personal time. Normally, excused absences are budgeted as a payroll expense and don’t pose a problem, as long as you’re tracking it consistently. However, unnecessary costs are incurred when time is taken but not deducted from an employee’s bank of accrued time off.

Unscheduled absences include arriving late, leaving early, taking longer breaks/lunches than allowed, or not showing up at all. In the typical workplace, unscheduled absenteeism can range from 5% to 10%, meaning as many as one in ten workers is absent when they should be working, according to Circadian. Though this varies by industry, with healthcare and retail experiencing the highest rates of absenteeism, unscheduled time off disrupts the flow of any business.

Calling in sick at the last minute impacts supervisors, employees who need to fill in and customers, too, if a thin staff stresses service resources or pushes deadlines. What’s worse, however, is allowing chronic offenders to slowly pile up unproductive time. They’re the ones bending the rules, and they will continue pushing the limits as long as it’s allowed. Ten minutes here and there adds up quickly, especially if you do nothing to correct this behavior.

Ignoring repeat offenders also sends a negative message to your accountable superstars. Though they are your most reliable employees, they could become jaded over time if they constantly fill in for chronic abusers and wonder why there are no consequences.

One word of caution before you start addressing issues: Make sure the absence isn’t protected by federal, state or local law. Absences for legally protected reasons, such as military leave or certain illnesses, should not be designated as “unexcused” unless the employee unreasonably didn’t follow notification procedures (e.g., by not providing advance notice for a planned medical appointment, or not calling a supervisor for an unplanned absence), or it has been determined that he/she does not meet eligibility requirements for legal protection.

These Absences May Be Protected

You may be required by law (depending on your business’ size, location and other factors) to grant permission for these time-off situations:

  • Birth, adoption or becoming a foster parent
  • Medical or health-related issues
  • Caring for a sick relative or partner
  • Workers’ compensation injury or proceedings
  • Donating blood, an organ or bone marrow
  • Religious holiday or practice
  • Military service obligation
  • Caring for a disabled service member
  • Jury duty or witness obligations
  • Voting in an election
  • Certain volunteer work (e.g., firefighter or disaster recovery)
  • Attending a child’s school activities

It’s Time for a Plan

If you want to reduce absenteeism, a good first step is to share with staff the impact it has on your business. Walk employees through the chain reaction that occurs when someone calls in unexpectedly. Explain how it affects morale and customer satisfaction, and reduces profits.

When employees see that you’re bringing them into the conversation on how to create a better work environment, they will be more willing to share ideas on how to fix the problem. Encourage dialog, ask for input and let them know you value their insight.

Armed with your newfound feedback, it’s time to craft an attendance policy. A formal, fair and firm policy lets you establish attendance rules, share them with employees and enforce them consistently. You can cover a lot of ground with a comprehensive policy, but, at the very least, define late or missed work time, available paid and unpaid leave (including how it’s accrued), holidays and other company leave, and the consequences for not following the rules. Make it perfectly clear that excessive abuse will not be tolerated.

It is important to make sure employees have been made aware of company procedures for reporting planned and unplanned absences. Employees who violate “no-call/no show” procedures without a valid reason should be subjected to formal discipline. Disciplinary action should be applied consistently to similar situations to ensure fairness and avoid discrimination claims.

To make the entire process of monitoring absenteeism even easier, consider using the Attendance Calendar Smart App. Just click here to discover how this electronic solution makes attendance tracking easier than ever before.

Key Takeaways:
  • Employees call in sick even when they aren’t.
  • Make sure you aren’t encouraging a culture of absenteeism.
  • Coming in late, leaving early and extending breaks are just as harmful.
  • Know which absences are considered legal.
  • Create an attendance policy and hold employees accountable to it.