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Attendance Policies: A Guide for Employers

Employees inevitably miss or are late to work for a variety of reasons, including vacation, medical appointments or even poor traffic. Creating an attendance policy for employees can help reinforce accountability in your workplace, leading to improved morale, boosted productivity and fewer absenteeism issues.

Learn more below about employee attendance policies, including how they can help your business, best practices and what to include in your policies.

Related: Company Policies: 17 Policies to Consider for Your Business

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What is an attendance policy?

An attendance policy is a documented set of rules that outline your business’ expectations on attendance, absences, vacation and other related matters. Typically developed and enforced by your HR department and included in the employee handbook, an attendance policy formalizes attendance expectations to create accountability and promote employee productivity.

Types of attendance issues

Without a formalized attendance policy, your business can face a range of attendance issues.

Common issues include:

  • Absenteeism: Frequent absences from work that inhibit the employee’s ability to complete their responsibilities and add workload to other employees
  • Presenteeism: Attending work beyond expectations or requirements, resulting in unsustainable presenteeism that hurts productivity and job satisfaction
  • Tardiness: Arriving late to work, taking breaks longer than they’re entitled to and leaving work early without a valid excuse are all forms of tardiness that can disrupt the workplace

Advantages of attendance policies

When strategized correctly, an attendance policy can provide numerous benefits to you and your employees.

These include:

  • Smooth workflows: Formalized schedule and absence expectations help employees show up on time or provide ample notice if they plan to be absent from work
  • Universal standards: A standardized policy ensures that all employees are held equally accountable
  • Regulated flexibility: Remote and flexible work standards give employees flexibility and freedom in their work while still being held accountable to attendance expectations
  • Reduced absenteeism: Track attendance to identify and resolve excessive employee absences
  • Cost-efficiency: The CDC estimates that absenteeism costs U.S. employers $225.8 billion annually, but reducing unplanned absences or absenteeism means you may spend less money covering last-minute shifts, hiring contractors or paying employee turnover costs
  • Improve morale: Addressing absenteeism can improve morale by preventing other employees from taking on excessive work from absent coworkers

Read more: Tips to Manage and Improve Attendance at Work

Best practices for attendance policies for your business

As your business grows and takes on more employees, a properly implemented attendance policy can help it function smoothly and productively.

Consider workplace culture

Employee attendance is part of your company culture. If your employees are chronically late or absent, it may take time to shift your culture’s underlying behaviors, habits and values.

Before writing your attendance policy, speak with managers about how they handle tardiness and absences to identify any discrepancies in their standards. Differences in approach can send mixed messages to employees, so management must have standardized expectations for attendance to change the company culture and successfully enforce an attendance policy.

Consider other cultural factors that may influence your attendance policy. For instance, a zero-tolerance attendance policy may be incompatible with many employees with family needs that require them to juggle responsibilities. Students may also need more flexibility on start times if they work right after classes, and people with chronic illnesses may need more options to work from home.

Related: Is Your Workplace Flexible Enough?

Keep it simple

Instead of creating a policy that covers every possible scenario for employee absences or tardiness, stick to common topics and define the expectations in terms that everyone can understand.

Some examples include: 

  • Planned absences: The employee notified their manager an approved amount of time before a planned absence
  • Tardiness: Employee shows up a few minutes or more past their scheduled start time
  • Sick days: Employees are absent due to illness or a doctor’s note
  • Unscheduled absences: An employee notifies management they will be absent due to emergencies or other unexpected causes
  • No-shows: An employee doesn’t show up to work and doesn’t notify management

Creating categories of absences differentiates attendance and discipline expectations without overcomplicating policies. This helps employees better understand how they should communicate with their manager and what type of absences are acceptable.

For example, a sick day category shows employees they are permitted and encouraged to stay home from work if they’re sick to recover faster and prevent spreading illness to others in the workplace.

Include realistic disciplinary actions

If an employee misses work unexpectedly, no-shows or arrives late, it can significantly impact the workplace. In these cases, workplace morale, efficiency and productivity may suffer as others must sometimes take on additional workload.

In these scenarios, your attendance policy could state:

  • Tardiness is defined as showing up five minutes or more after the scheduled start time
  • Employees who show up more than 30 minutes after their shift began will be counted as a no-show
  • After three occasions of tardiness or unscheduled absences, employees will be subject to disciplinary action
  • Managers must be notified at least three hours in advance regarding unexpected absences

Get employee feedback

An attendance policy supports the needs of your business and employees’ success. Once you draft your attendance policy, review its contents with your employees and get their feedback.

Ensure employees feel that policies around absence categories and disciplinary actions are fair and objective, and work toward a compromise if they’re unsatisfied with your draft. This process helps create a sustainable attendance policy while also giving your employees a voice in attendance and absence expectations.

Communicate attendance policies

Once you finalize your attendance policy, ensure that you communicate it to all employees and their managers. Train managers and HR on attendance policy details, so they handle attendance or absence concerns from employees.

Review the finalized policies with employees, detailing expectations and disciplinary actions and explaining attendance tracking procedures. Your attendance policy should be easily accessible from digital resources or your employee handbook for employees to reference anytime. 

Related: How to Manage Employees

What to include in attendance policies

Your attendance policy should include the following elements.

Overview of attendance expectations

Start with the intentions and purpose of your policy, such as supporting business needs and employee work-life balance. Detail how the attendance policy benefits your business and its employees, such as improving attendance fairness, productivity, labor coverage and schedule flexibility. Include the date the policy change will be in effect.

Communication expectations and time off requests

Set clear expectations for time off requests and communicating requests with management. Be specific about how time off for planned absences, such as vacation or leave, differs from unplanned absences. Define other terms such as tardy, sick day and no-show in this section.

For planned absences, clarify who employees should submit their time off requests to and the process for doing so. This includes how far in advance employees must submit requests, any restricted dates and limits on days or hours allowed off. For unplanned absences, identify who employees must notify. If you use scheduling software, create a guideline for how to make time off requests, give up shifts or notify managers of absences within the software.

Policy expectations

In this section, identify any exceptions to the policy to accommodate employees dealing with unique or challenging circumstances.

Some common exceptions include:

  • Maternity or parental leave
  • Disability leave
  • Bereavement
  • Military duty
  • Jury duty

Although state or federal law regulates some of these exceptions, it’s important to align your business with these regulations to ensure employees understand their absence entitlements.

Disciplinary action

Specify disciplinary actions that apply to policy violations. To ensure fairness and objectivity, disciplinary measures should be communicated at the same time as the policy’s creation. Disciplinary actions can include a range of measures, including verbal warnings, written warnings, suspension or termination. If you offer support or resources to employees struggling with attendance or other issues in the workplace, include a referral to those resources in this section.

How time off is calculated

Employers vary in how they calculate time off for employees. For clarity and transparency, outline your business’ procedure for calculating and awarding time off to employees. This section should also include procedures for when employees have too many overlapping requests or need restricted dates off. Setting these expectations in your attendance policy helps employees understand time off request priorities and avoids understaffing issues.

Related: Unlimited Vacation Policy: Why Employers Should Consider It

FAQs about attendance policies

What are no-fault attendance policies?

A no-fault attendance policy is an attendance policy point system that provides employees with a preset amount of time off to use toward unexcused absences, tardiness or early departures. If they deplete their time off, they earn points for unexcused absences. When an employee accumulates a certain number of points, the employer can take appropriate disciplinary measures.

How many sick days are reasonable?

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that employees in private industry receive an average of seven days of sick leave per one year of service. Employees with 20 years of service receive eight days of sick leave per year. Studies show that workers with paid sick leave are 28% less likely to suffer occupational injuries than those without.

How do you respond to employees with poor attendance?

An attendance policy and tracking attendance are the first steps in holding employees accountable for absences. If they continue to struggle with absenteeism, address absences immediately. Determine any underlying causes contributing to absences and support employees in finding support or improving work-life balance. Remember to reward employees for punctual attendance.

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