Excessive absenteeism. Employers have a legitimate expectation that their workers will come to work reliably and on time. Chronic absenteeism and tardiness, however, continue to be leading causes of discipline.

The key to regulating attendance problems is to set a clear and uniformly-enforced policy that defines what amount of absenteeism or lateness will be considered “excessive.” An example would be “any employee who is absent more than five days in any six-month period shall be subject to disciplinary action.” As the employee begins to approach the limit, management should provide reminders.

Absenteeism is a “no fault” offense. By that, we mean that an employee who is late or absent for legitimate or even unavoidable reasons is still subject to discipline. Classic examples of this concept are childcare or transportation problems that force an employee to be late or absent. Employee are responsible for governing their own affairs in a way that permits them to be present and on time.

Care should be taken to differentiate absenteeism, which is generally not protected by law, from medical leaves of absences, which are protected by law (if the employee is eligible). Management should ask enough questions to see if the employee qualifies for leave under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act or its state equivalents.

Some jurisdictions, such as New York, have recently enacted mandatory sick leave laws which entitle employees to take time off free from the threat of discipline. If you are uncertain if such a law exists in your area or are not familiar with its requirements, call your local Department of Labor or look online.

There is a special factor that aggravates the seriousness of repeated absenteeism: absence that chronically occurs in conjunction with weekends, holidays or vacations. Employers have a right to be skeptical when workers habitually take “long weekends” by calling out sick on Mondays or Fridays. One way of curbing such abuses is to require doctor’s notes to substantiate that an illness is legitimate and not just an excuse.

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