Addressing employee attendance problems when firing seems like the only solution
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Addressing employee attendance problems when firing seems like the only solution

​Or can I really fire someone just for being late or absent? 

 
You’ve heard the expression Showing up is half the battle, right? It’s part of drilling into our heads the importance of attendance and punctuality. Starting early in grade school — and stopping, well, pretty much never.
 
Even so, there are those employees that just don’t get it. Whether just they're time-challenged, or really vulnerable to flu germs, these folks are out or late far more than everyone else.
So, when you’ve had enough of lousy employee attendance, is termination a legal solution?
 
Yes, but … you have to handle it properly.
 
Since attendance is one of the most common reasons for employee dismissal, there’s a clear template to follow to avoid any legal stickiness.  But first...
 

Why is poor employee attendance such a big deal?

 
Well, for most jobs, when Jorge is habitually a half hour late, something’s not getting done. If Michelle, a salaried worker, is out more than she’s supposed to be, you’re paying for work she didn’t do.
 
Add a kick in the shins for morale and productivity and you’ve got quite a problem. Plus, when you tolerate it, absenteeism and tardiness (sounds like you’re back with 3rd grade with Ms. Hunter, no?) can be contagious.
 

Okay, I get that. So what can I do?

 
The first step in avoiding an epidemic is having a policy on attendance.
 
Do you have one? In writing? If not, develop one.
 
  • Make very clear what is and isn’t acceptable
  • Put it in writing and make sure everyone has access
  • Better yet, put it in your employee handbook 
  • Require new hires to read it before they start working
  • Have all employees sign a form acknowledging they’ve read and understand the policy
 
Now that everybody’s on the same photocopied page, you need to enforce your shiny new attendance policy. The best way to do that is simply by keeping score.
 

Keep daily employee attendance records

 
By keeping good, daily records of who shows and who doesn't you'll get a better picture of what’s going on.
 
Maybe more importantly, employees are more likely to be prompt when they know the company pays attention.
 
Staying on the right side of the law with employee attendance comes down to consistency. Document everyone's attendance regularly. Enforce the same rules the same way with every employee. You can’t cut Amy extra slack just because her daughter babysits for you on short notice — a godsend though it may be.
 

Use an early warning system

 
When people break the rules, follow the procedure for issuing warnings or taking related disciplinary action. Those employee attendance records boost your credibility and make it tough for someone to contest the incidents.
 
Following up with a written warning is the next step. First, it documents that there was a problem. It also makes clear that you addressed the issue with the employee and what the consequences would be if the problem continues.
 

I have the written policy, the sign off, the records of the employees' absences and the warnings. Can I fire them now?

 
As long as termination is included as a possible outcome in the attendance policy, you’re free to cut the employee loose. While your employee attendance policy won’t make the actual firing any less unpleasant, it will help keep your company on level and solid legal ground.
 

Document, document, document!

 
All these elements build a nice cocoon of protection should you face a wrongful termination suit down the road. By diligently documenting attendance records, monitoring them closely, and consistently handling the issue the same way for all employees, your company has little to fear from claims of discrimination or other firing-related legal tangle.

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