Human resources questions: How do I handle attendance problems with my employees?

Sept. 7, 2012
What do you do when an employee has an attendance problem? Tim Twigg and Rebecca Crane suggest a flexible process that will allow you, as the employer, to exercise discretion based on the facts of the situation as well as maintain the integrity of at-will prerogatives.

Q: I have an employee who has an attendance problem. I want to address the issue, but I don’t have anything written in my policy manual that clarifies what I will do when an employee is absent and/or tardy the first, second, or third time, etc. Can I talk to this employee without the written rules on discipline?

A: Yes, you can talk to this employee even without any written rules, although I do agree a policy needs to be in place that addresses attendance. This policy should ensure employees know that excessive absenteeism and/or tardiness can be grounds for disciplinary action, up to and including termination. However, a “progressive discipline” policy, such as you suggest, is generally not recommended. In some instances, it may be better for an employee to stay home, such as when contagious with the flu. It wouldn’t be advantageous to apply discipline in these situations. Of course, consequences are appropriate in the cases where you believe unsatisfactory attendance is based on nonvalid reasons. It is preferable to keep policies flexible so as to allow you, as the employer, the ability to exercise discretion based on the facts of the situation. Progressive discipline policy language can inadvertently undermine employer at-will prerogatives. An important aspect of maintaining the integrity of at-will is to maintain the employer's right to discipline and/or terminate employment at any time for any nondiscriminatory reason.

The opinions expressed above are based on the writer’s comprehensive background as a human resources professional and the policies in our Bent Ericksen & Associates products having been reviewed by legal counsel. The writer is not an attorney, and the advice provided in this message should not be construed as a legal opinion. If you have legal questions after considering the advice and reading any materials referenced, it is recommended that you consult with your attorney.

Author bio
Tim Twigg is the president of Bent Ericksen & Associates, and Rebecca Crane is a human resource compliance consultant with Bent Ericksen & Associates. For 30 years, the company has been a leading authority in human resource and personnel issues, helping dentists deal successfully with the ever-changing and complex labor laws. To receive a complimentary copy of the company’s quarterly newsletter or to learn more about its services, call (800) 679-2760 or visit